Q: Sporting is on a nice run right now, unbeaten in it's past four games (two wins and two draws) and has jumped into 5th place in the Western Conference. What do you attribute to this nice run of form? Does it have more to do with tactics, or are players performing at a higher level?
A: I am not entirely convinced they are even playing that much better. The last match against Columbus crew was the first time all season SKC was able to score three goals and they really did look much better in that game. However, the other win you mentioned, they had no business getting. The 2-0 win very well could have been and should have been a 4-1 loss.
Finishing was the problem for the rough patch. On this upswing, they have just been a bit better in the final third. Feilhaber, who had been terrible, has started to look a little bit better. Dwyer has started to see the ball hit the back of the net again. And Graham Zusi has looked more confident and dangerous once again as well.
They do look better, but will need to continue this kind of play to show me that the Columbus match wasn't just a fluke. The talent is there to succeed and I am feeling good about the rest of the season as the guys are starting to play with some swag.
Q: After being a consistent performer for many years, Graham Zusi had a tough 2015 in which he only managed two goals and four assists in 24 matches. While stats don't always paint the picture, by all accounts it was a down season for Graham. What do you think was the cause of Zusi's down year following World Cup 2014? Moreover, at 29 years old, Zusi should still be a major contributor, but so far in 2016 it appears his struggles continue as he has only a goal and assist to his name. That being said, he just scored a great goal in the game against Columbus and was named to the Team of the Week. What are you seeing from Zusi this year? Are his best years behind him or do you expect a bounce back in this campaign?
A: The stats don't always paint the picture, but those stats do the job. He was simply not good last year. And that isn't compared to other DP's.. that is compared to anyone. At points this year it felt like he was doing more harm than good!
After the World Cup, everyone on the team was bad. But he and Besler were without a doubt fatigued. I will blame that season on that. Last year, he was dealing with nagging injuries all year. The club says he was never at 100% but that he was back in good form and ready to dominate this season again.
He has definitely not played up to par this season, but there were flashes where you could see the old Zusi. After playing really well with the USMNT he has returned with confidence. He looked fantastic in the Columbus match and was vintage Zues. I don't believe that he doesn't have the ability to return to his old form at this point. So no, I don't think his best years are behind him. He is still very quick and clever and if he is confident he can do some amazing things. I think he is fit for a strong finish to the season.
Q: Aside from the more established and well know players, who is someone NYCFC should look out for this Sunday?
Jimmy Medranda! Thank you for asking this question and allowing me to talk about this dude! SKC got Jimmy on a loan in 2013 out of his native Columbia, then signed him in 2014. He is 22 years old and became a fan favorite with a few short appearances here and there. It took him a while to really figure out what is required of him in Vermes' demanding system because he can be overzealous and get caught out of position. But this year he has finally been able to find a spot in the starting lineup and keep it.
Medranda is a really, really clever player and has amazing skills on the ball. He's strong, he's fast, and he's probably capable of knocking over the goal posts with his powerful shot. The guy will literally shoot from anywhere on the field. ANYWHERE, I tell you. It may sound like I'm describing an attacking player, and you would be right. But he has been starting at left-back. Vermes loves his fullbacks to get forward and Jimmy is an extreme version of that. He's had a few terrible moments, but is actually turning in some amazing numbers on defense with interceptions, blocks and tackles.
He is one of the friendliest, nicest human beings on this planet and everyone is really rooting for him. He may actually have been SKC's best player since he broke into the lineup. Keep an eye on him and you'll see something crazy. Whether he juggles the ball through traffic, or makes an absurd sliding tackle in the box, or shoots from 50 yards out, you will not be disappointed. Plain and simple: he is so much fun to watch.
Starting XI and a Prediction?
(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Saad Abdul-Salaa, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Jimmy Medranda, Soni Mustivar, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Brad Davis, Diego Rubio, Graham Zusi
Sporting Kansas City 1 - 0 New York City FC