Columbus Crew preview: Sporting Kansas City

BY foxsports • April 16, 2011

Columbus' retooled defense has proved remarkable thus far, but the Crew are hoping for more from their offense.

That unit might have its chance for a breakout game Saturday against one of the worst defenses in the league, but a short-handed Sporting Kansas City might also provide a stern test for the Crew's back line.

Columbus (1-1-2) added two new defenders this season in SuperDraft pick Rich Balchan and 30-year-old Sebastian Miranda, who spent the previous 11 years playing in his native Chile.

Julius James, with his fourth MLS team in four seasons, was also called in to replace an injured Andy Iro. That left captain Chad Marshall was the only returning starter in front of goalkeeper William Hesmer.

With those new faces, the Crew have posted three consecutive shutouts -- one shy of the franchise record -- but they've recorded only one win over that stretch.

Columbus has scored just three goals this season, and star forward Jeff Cunningham has yet to find the net. Cunningham tallied 28 goals over his final two campaigns with FC Dallas and is one shy of tying Jaime Moreno's all-time MLS record of 133.

"We need a little more composure in front of the net," midfielder Robbie Rogers told the league's website. "We need to be a little more decisive and finish our chances."

The Crew might get that chance to finish against Sporting Kansas City (1-1-1), which has given up eight goals in its first three games.

It surrendered three of those in the final 18 minutes - two in stoppage time - against expansion Vancouver to fumble away a 3-0 lead and finish with a bitter draw April 2.

Sporting Kansas City, though, had improved play in its own end four days later during a 1-0 overtime win over Houston in U.S.Open Cup play.

"To me, it was a huge result," coach Peter Vermes told the league's website. "Throughout the entire game, the guys were extremely disciplined defensively. Because of that, it provided us with the opportunity to build off what happened last weekend."

The team hasn't had many problems at the other end of the field, having scored eight goals this season. Sporting KC built its lead against Vancouver despite Omar Bravo being suspended for a red card.

It'll have to play at least three more weeks without its designated player, who is recovering from hernia surgery. To help overcome Bravo's loss, Sporting Kansas City will likely need help from Kei Kamara, rookie C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury, who scored twice against Vancouver.

Bunbury had the only goal in last season's 1-0 win at Crew Stadium, the franchise's first there since 2006. It is also Sporting KC's lone victory in its past seven matches versus Columbus.

Emilio Renteria helped delivered a 1-0 win for the Crew last May in Kansas City.

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