Sporting Kansas City-United Preview

The Associated Press

Sporting Kansas City is on the cusp of its longest winless streak in nearly three years, though clashes with D.C. United tend to result in three points for the defending MLS Cup champion.

Short-handed Kansas City will try to end its recent drought and extend its unbeaten streak over D.C. to eight when two of the current MLS trophy holders meet Saturday night at RFK Stadium.

United forward Eddie Johnson, originally lost to suspension, will be available after a review panel rescinded his red card from Saturday's 2-1 loss in New England.

Kansas City (5-4-4) is winless in four matches after Tuesday's 1-1 home draw with New York. It hasn't gone without a victory in five straight since a 10-match span from March 26-June 9, 2011.

Against the Red Bulls, wing replacement Toni Dovale made his fourth MLS start and scored his first goal to give Kansas City an early lead.

Sporting is operating without midfielder Graham Zusi and defender Matt Besler while the pair is away with the U.S. national team, as well as a handful of others due to various injuries and international assignments. Most of the disruption has been on the back line and in the midfield, leading to an influx of youth for the lineup.

The 24-year-old Dovale, 19-year-old Igor Juliao and 22-year-old Alex Martinez have all been forced into action.

"What's happened is some guys have just been accelerated into having to play on a regular basis, and maybe more so than we would've thought based on some injuries, based on some call-ups," coach Peter Vermes told the club's official website. "All of that has, like I said, accelerated their entrance into the team. My feeling is, in the long term, it's going to benefit us."

Sporting will have center back Aurelien Collin back from a hamstring strain.

Kansas City is 6-0-1 against United since Aug. 21, 2011 with two goals conceded and six shutouts, but holding up the club's impressive run against an improved D.C. team could be a tall order for the inexperienced group.

Last season, victories against United didn't mean quite as much as it won an MLS-low three league matches. This year, D.C. (5-4-3) has already put itself in position to double that before the end of May. It's also primed to pass Kansas City in the Eastern Conference standings for second place.

Unlike Kansas City, United, last season's surprise U.S. Open Cup champion, feels as though it has plenty of lineup options.

"When we're going through our 18, it's exciting," assistant coach Preston Burpo told the club's official website. "We have so many options. It's tough to get our 18, not just the starting 11. We're happy going into this game right now."

Confidence should be especially high at home. Since losing its season opener, United is 4-0-2 on its own pitch with 12 goals scored, four conceded and three shutouts.

Sporting's Dom Dwyer, who is second in MLS with 10 goals, could threaten that stretch of solid defensive play. He scored the only goal in the last meeting with D.C. on Oct. 18 in Kansas City. The 23-year-old, who had three MLS goals prior to this season, has become a marked man.

"There's been discussion about him today in our team meeting, making sure our defenders realize that any ball being crossed, he is going to be on the move and any ball into his feet, he can turn you and get his shot off," Burpo said.

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