Jimmy Nielsen and Sporting Kansas City are riding a 339-minute shutout streak and now face a team struggling to score that will be without two key players.
Sporting KC has taken the last four matchups with D.C. United, who will have to try to get their sputtering attack untracked on the road Friday night without former league MVP Dwayne De Rosario and Nick DeLeon.
Nielsen leads MLS with three clean sheets - all in the last three matches - with Sporting Kansas City (2-1-2) enjoying the league’s longest shutout streak in 2013. If he posts another clean sheet Friday, Nielsen will run the streak to 429 - which would mark the longest by a Kansas City goalkeeper since Tony Meola in 2000.
There’s a good chance it could happen since only two teams have scored less than D.C. (1-2-1), which has two goals this year.
United will be missing De Rosario due to an adductor strain. DeLeon, who scored six goals as a rookie in 2012, is out with a hamstring injury.
Sporting coach Peter Vermes, who earned election to the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame on Wednesday, doesn’t see United’s attack as a weakness.
“I don’t think that they lack for goals,” Vermes said. “They may not have scored as many as people would think they would have or what have you, there’s probably a ton of reasons we could talk about.”
DeLeon has scored the only goal for D.C. in its last four meetings with Kansas City, which posted three straight 1-0 victories in the series before a 2-1 home win Aug. 11.
Sporting is also 4-0-3 in its last seven at home versus D.C., and 6-0-3 in its last nine at home overall. Many of its players expect a defensive-minded approach by United.
“I think possession at home is always going to be key but to be honest moreso, the ability that we have to kind of go at ‘em when we do get into those areas are even more important,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “I think more often than not when we play at home, teams are going to tend to play more defensive than they do when they’re at home.”
Feilhaber turned in his best game Saturday as he assisted on goals by Claudio Bieler and Graham Zusi in a 2-0 home win over previously unbeaten Montreal. Those scorers have combined for five of the six goals by Kansas City, which had gone two straight matches without any.
D.C. has not played since falling at home for the first time, 2-1 to Columbus on March 23. The focus since that match has been on fundamentals.
“Everything’s been sharp,” defender Dejan Jakovic told United’s official website. “Guys look good. Hopefully we’ll be prepared to play a real good Kansas City side, especially at home.”
United coach Ben Olsen may give Carlos Ruiz and Kyle Porter their first starts in place of De Rosario and DeLeon, respectively. D.C. would also be helped if Chris Pontius could finally score after he had a career-high 12 goals in 2012.
“Pontius is a very, very dangerous player going forward,” Vermes said.