Teal Bunbury and Perry Kitchen battle for position in United's 1-0 loss to SKC earlier in the season
Even though they'll be playing to win, tonight's match doesn't mean a whole lot of DC United. Their season is done. Our opponents aren't though. Sporting Kansas City still has a chance to win the Eastern Conference, giving them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. To learn more about tonight's opponent, we traded questions with Justin Mayhugh of SB Nation's SKC blog The Daily Wiz.
B&RU: What would it mean for Sporting Kansas City to finish in first place in the East?
TDW: I think it would probably mean quite a bit confidence wise for the team heading into the playoffs. Being able to beat DC United at RFK could definitely set the tone for the postseason. Not that it will be an easy feat defeating DC. I'm expecting Dwayne De Rosario to come out inspired in the last match of the regular season to solidify his status in regards to a couple of the top notch MLS awards this season (Golden Boot, MVP).
I think Sporting KC fans are beyond happy to be in the playoffs this year, but I do think there is an overwhelming feeling that they want first place in the East. I think a lot of the confidence fans have with the team is predicated on whether or not Sporting KC is playing at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. The general consensus I've gathered from the fans I've talked to is that they feel Sporting KC can beat any team they face if Kansas City is playing at home. I think if Sporting KC are on their game, they can go toe-to-toe with any team, regardless of where the match is played at, but I do agree with the majority of fans; Sporting KC plays with a lot more confidence at LIVESTRONG.
B&RU: On a team that was already stocked with solid attacking options, SKC appears to have found the best forward and perhaps biggest surprise of the 2011 MLS Draft. Does CJ Sapong deserve my vote for Rookie Of The Year?
TDW: I definitely think so. The names I hear most in the MLS Rookie of the Year conversation are A.J. Soares, Will Bruin, and Perry Kitchen. Despite the fact that all three of these players have had very good rookie campaigns, I still don't think it's close this season. Sapong has five goals (tied with Bruin for the most among rookies), and five assists (leads all rookies in this category), and has played in every single match for Sporting Kansas City this year.
And it's not just the things like goals and assists that show up in the stat box after matches either. Sapong does all of the little things that coaches love. His work rate is wonderful. His effort is constant. I think that's one of the biggest reasons why Sapong has played as much as he has this season; Teal Bunbury is not known for giving maximum effort at all times, and even though Bunbury has had a pretty good season statistically (9 goals), his play has been very up and down for most of the season.
You more or less know what you're going to get with CJ on a game to game basis, and most of it's extremely positive. I would say that I think the one area of Sapong's game that he will need to work on after the season is his ability to consistently be a scoring threat moving forward. Right now CJ's game is more back to the goal.
With that being said, I imagine we'd be hard pressed to find a Sporting KC fan who isn't elated with how well CJ has played this season.
But to answer your question; yes, I feel like CJ is worth your vote. I'd love to hear the cases for other rookies against Sapong's credentials.
B&RU: With D.C. United being eliminated from playoff contention on Wednesday night, our fans may be looking for a team to temporarily support for the next month. It won't be the Union, the Crew, or the Red Bulls. Give us a reason why we should feel good about cheering for Kansas City.
TDW: The biggest reason I can think of is if you go back to where Sporting KC was earlier this summer, which was last place in the Eastern Conference. Sporting KC had a brutal stretch of road matches where they were only able to collect six points in 10 matches. Almost everyone, myself included, had already written the team off before they were able to go on a miraculous 14 game unbeaten streak that coincided with the opening of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
So, you have a team that everyone had pretty much left for dead earlier in the year. They were last in the East, and now they have the opportunity to finish first in the conference if they can win on Saturday. It's been an amazing turnaround, and I think MLS fans can get behind a team that is able to overcome the odds like that.
TDW: There's no doubt that Dwayne De Rosario has had a great season; 16 goals, and 12 assists. The 2011 MLS MVP race is basically a toss up. It could go in a number of ways. There seem to be a number of people who feel that two things are hurting De Rosario's chances; 1. D.C. United missed the playoffs this year, and 2) He's been on three teams this season. Do you think De Rosario is worthy of the MVP award this year? And do you feel like those two concerns are legitimate?
B&RU: The first concern is legitimate. The second isn't. Just because two teams were dumb enough to let him go doesn't mean he doesn't deserve the award. He does. De Rosario has been the best player in MLS this season, and has this season cemented his place as one of the top MLS players of all time. United probably wouldn't have even been in the playoff hunt without him. Whenever United need a goal, you can bet the ball will be fed to De Rosario as often as possible. And boy does he know what to do with it.
TDW: If you had to name three players that you feel like have been crucial to D.C. this season, who would you name, and why?
B&RU: Well that's easy. Chris Pontius, Dejan Jakovic, and Branko Boskovic - three players that have missed significant time for United. The team hasn't been the same since Pontius went down with a season-ending injury, and the four consecutive losses prior to Wednesday's tie against Portland all came without Jakovic in the lineup anchoring our defense. The loss of our designated player Boskovic early in the season may have been the biggest disappointment though. It's disappointing because we may never know what kind of impact the talented Montenegran star midfielder could have had in MLS.
TDW: Since he's a former Kansas City player I'm sure a number of Sporting Kansas City fans would be interested to hear a United fan's take on Josh Wolff. What kind of impact has Josh made for D.C. this season?
B&RU: On a team so full of youth, Wolff has provided the leadership that guys like Charlie Davies and Andy Najar needed. His work off the ball is inspiring, but he's also been vacant at times. As Wolff continues to age and as United hopefully adds some more forwards, his role with his club will diminish.