The New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City entered the 2013 season with high expectations, but both got off to slow starts. New York did not win any of their first four matches, while Kansas City won just one of their first four as both clubs came under fire, but the Red Bulls have bounced back with two wins in their last three and Sporting has won their last two to restore faith in the teams.
On Wednesday, New York and Kansas City will square off at Red Bull Arena with the hope that a win can put their slow start behind them for good and keep them from once again facing the doubts that plagued the first month of the season.
Things are a little tougher for Sporting than they are the Red Bulls. While midweek matches always cause the fixture congestion that forces teams to consider resting players, New York at least gets to stay at home through Saturday, when they host New England. On the flip side, Kansas City flew in for the match and will hop on a place right after to fly clear across the country for Los Angeles, where they will take on the Galaxy on Saturday.
With the travel to go along with the fixture congestion, Peter Vermes will have to consider giving players like Oriol Rosell and Benny Feilhaber rests. The same is true of Claudio Bieler, who has been tremendous, but may make way for C.J. Sapon to handle the load alone up top.
The question for New York is whether their midfield can stand up to Kansas City's. The Red Bulls have put a lot of the creative responsibilities on Juninho, who has showed flashes of his former brilliance, but is still 38 years old. Will Jonny Steele, Dax McCarthy and Eric Alexander be able to give Juninho enough support so if he falters Thierry Henry isn't starved of service? Sporting's pressure will test that.
Kansas City won't face nearly as stern of a test thanks to New York's leaky defense. The Red Bulls have allowed 10 goals this season, second-most in MLS, which is good news for a team that sometimes struggles to turn possession into chances and goals.
The match-up seems to point Sporting's way, but if they win, nobody will care. It will just be another piece of evidence that their early season slumber is in the past, while the Red Bulls are going statement hunting themselves. Somebody will have a little more faith by the end of the night.