Sporting KC will play Minnesota United FC in the fourth round of the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Wednesday night at Sporting Park. The match will kick off at 7:30 p.m. CT and will be streamed live on SportingKC.com. It can also be heard locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB with pregame coverage starting at 7 p.m. CT. To preview tonight's match, we spoke with St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Andy Greder.
JF: Let's start with Minnesota United's season. How would you assess their spring campaign?
AG: Minnesota United won the Spring Season for the North American Soccer League. They won six, lost one and had two draws. They scored 16 goals and they are pretty satisfied with that.
JF: What are the thoughts and opinions from the players/coaches on Wednesday game against Sporting KC?
AG: I think they are excited about the challenge. I think they’re investing in the team. I know they have ten new players this year and certainly want to compete with Major League Soccer teams. They are looking forward to the challenge and have talked about what a difficult place it will be to play at Sporting Park and they are looking forward to it.
JF: Who are the key players on this squad?
AG: I know that Matt Besler is out with the national team. I know Christian Ramirez is their leading scorer; he has four goals in nine games and four assists as well and he was the player of the month for May and June. He is a guy who is explosive. He is a 23-year-old attacker with some good size at 6-2, so he could be a force if United would be able to win this game. Another key player is Matt VanOekel, the goalkeeper who has missed the last couple games. Coach Manny Lagos hasn’t made a decision if VanOekel is coming back for this game or not, but he is a key player as well.”
JF: How much importance does the ownership put into the Open Cup? Where does the Open Cup rank on importance for the club?
AG: I think that number one in the league is the first priority, but like I said, we want to be thought as one of the better clubs in the country and in North America and they have been making investments with that. This is important to them. They want to host a game in Minnesota next week against the Portland Timbers and they want to have that exposure against another MLS team next week. They have a number of friendlies scheduled for this summer. The English Premier League team Swansea City is coming and the Mexico U-21 national team is also coming. They are also trying to get a good summer of soccer. So if they are able to go take care of business in Kansas City tomorrow, they could get a bonus game and that’s in their profit.
JF: For Wednesday's match, how are you expecting Minnesota United to approach this game and what are they thinking heading into this match?
AG: Manny Lagos talked about Sporting’s style of play and how they like to dictate the pace and realizing that is going to be the tempo that they are going to want to set. United is going to need to try and alter that at times and control the tempo of their stretches. They need to capitalize on those times they have the ball and are able to control it. Like any team, they have good ball movement, create options and scoring chances, so they know SKC will be able to dictate the pace and they want to capitalize when they do so. They know that Sporting KC are missing a few guys like Graham Zusi and Matt Besler and with both of those guys missing, the opportunity might be right.