Sporting KC vs. Toronto FC: This week's version of 'stop Giovinco'

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

MLS | Children's Mercy Park | Sunday, March 20 | 7 p.m. ET

Billed as

Two high-flying teams clash in Kansas City in what will be a good, old-fashioned shootout.

The lowdown

Sporting KC pulled off the Cascadia double in the first two weeks of the season, taking out the Seattle Sounders, 1-0 in a tight match in Week 1 and dismantling the Vancouver Whitecaps, 2-1 at home in Week 2. Expectations were mixed for Sporting KC, but they’ve put in the work to make it happen in their first two matches. Dom Dwyer, whose only Week 1 highlight was a sly foul on Seattle’s Brad Evans that sent the Sounders captain to the locker room early, had an excellent Week 2 in which he scored two goals to down the Whitecaps. His second was an absolute belter, and may even make its way into Goal of the Year talks at the end of the season.

Toronto FC, on the other hand, has been a bit more of a mixed bag but still looks as dangerous as ever with 2015 MVP Sebastian Giovinco leading the line. The Canadian club took on both New York clubs in the first two weeks of the season, first defeating the Red Bulls, 2-0 at Red Bull Arena and drawing NYCFC, 2-2 at Yankee Stadium in Week 2. Toronto’s result at the Red Bulls didn’t exactly tell the whole story, as the home side dominated possession by a whopping 63 percent to 27 percent. But as is his way, Sebastian Giovinco led a late charge for Toronto by scoring a penalty in the 82nd minute and assisting Marky Delgado’s injury-time goal to finish off the Red Bulls. Giovinco also scored against NYCFC, but it was only as an equalizer as his team had conceded two goals to David Villa early in the first half. If Toronto can get Giovinco the ball, they can take on anyone in MLS. On the flip side, it also means the Italian star forward has a target on his back for 90-plus minutes, and keeping him silent will be among Sporting KC’s most important tactics.

Team news

Sporting KC: Benny Feilhaber (abdominal), Paulo Nagamura (leg), Justin Mapp (toe), and Ike Opara (thigh) are all listed as out of Sunday’s match on the MLS Injury Report. Jordi Quintilla will likely fill in for Feilhaber at attacking midfield. Diego Rubio, whom Sporting KC recently picked up on loan, joined practice with the team this week and could be in contention for the weekend.

Toronto FC: Clement Simonin (knee) is listed as out by the MLS Injury Report. The Report lists DP forward Jozy Altidore (hamstring) as questionable, but reports out of Toronto make it seem highly unlikely that Altidore will make it back for Sunday.

Player to watch: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)

It seems almost cliche at this point, but it’s hard to say that any other player in the league is as dangerous as Giovinco. A rare international star that joined MLS at the height of his career, Giovinco absolutely tore up the league in his first season by scoring 22 goals in 33 league appearances in 2015. Giovinco is quick, technically skilled, and a very intelligent player who has a seemingly limitless bag of tricks that he can use to devastate defenses. Not a single team goes up against Toronto with anything other than “stop Giovinco” at the top of the priority list. Look for Michael Bradley, Will Johnson, and the rest of Toronto finding as many ways as possible to get Giovinco the ball in or around the penalty box against Sporting KC. And look for Matt Besler and Nuno Coelho to do absolutely everything possible to stop that from happening.

The managers

Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes has managed the team since 2009, when he took over for the departed Curt Onalfo. A former USA international, Vermes has only managed KC thus far in his career, and has delivered three major trophies: the U,S. Open Cup in 2012 and 2015 and the MLS Cup in 2013.

Another former United States international, Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney has only managed the team since 2014 after a stint as an assistant coach with now-defunct club Chivas USA. In the two seasons that Vanney has managed Toronto, he has a 21-17-6 record (38.64 percent) and made the playoffs in 2015.

Facts and figures

  • Sporting KC heads into Week 3 with the best possession stat in the league at 60% over the first two matches. Toronto FC, on the other hand, is second to last in this category with 42.6% of possession over the first two matches.
  • Perhaps underlining how much the team values getting the ball to Giovinco, Toronto leads MLS over the first two matches in long balls per game with 89. Curiously enough, Toronto also leads the league in offsides per game at 5.5. They’ll hope to get that under control if they want to break down Sporting KC’s defense, which has only given up a single goal so far this season.
  • Sebastian Giovinco not only led the league in scoring in 2015, but led the league in number of goals scored from outside the box with a whopping 10. Sporting KC will not only need to keep Giovinco outside of the box, but they’ll need to close him down before he even gets close if they hope to keep him off the scoresheet.

FourFourTwo prediction

Sporting KC will give up a good fight, but Giovinco will find a way to lead Toronto to a 3-2 victory.