Columbus (9-13-5) at Kansas City (12-9-6), 8:30 p.m. The new-look Columbus Crew will look to build upon a solid start under the guidance of Brian Bliss when the club heads to Sporting Park to take on Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
Bliss assumed the coaching responsibilities on an interim basis following the departure of Robert Warzycha on Monday, and the new head coach got off to a winning start as the Crew earned a 2-0 defeat of the Houston Dynamo two days later.
One of the first objectives Bliss sought to change was instilling a greater level of mental toughness within the squad, something that was on display when the Crew overcame a second-half penalty miss to go on and grab an insurance goal later on in the affair.
"I mean, there's not a lot you can do on the tactical side of things in a short amount of time, it's built up over time and two training sessions, but what I think what (we're) trying to get across was the mentality's got to change and you can influence the mentality, you can't necessarily influence the tactics so much in a short amount of time," Bliss said after the match. "I think the guys had the right frame of mind, very resilient, that penalty kick was a huge momentum swinger. You know we miss that, they get life go down and now we're under pressure for 5-6 minutes until we resettle ourselves and that's all due to the mental and that's a big part of the game."
The win snapped a two-game slide for the Crew, a run of form that mirrors Sporting's.
Kansas City is coming off of a 2-1 defeat of the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, which brought the club's two-game losing streak to an end. Sporting enters Saturday's tilt tied with the Montreal Impact and Red Bull New York on 42 points apiece to leave the race for first place in the Eastern Conference wide open.
"I can't stress how important (the win) is for us," Graham Zusi said after the defeat of Colorado. "This was pretty much a must-win game for us. We needed to get back on track in order to put ourselves in a good spot. This will get our confidence back up and we'll finish the season strong."
Zusi provided the game-winning goal late in the match, scoring in the 88th minute to overturn Edson Buddle's equalizer in the 77th.
"Our reaction to their goal was good, better than what it's been in the past," Zusi said. "In past times we stuck five guys across the defense's back line, dumped the ball in and hoped for the best. But we didn't do that tonight. We were staggered very well throughout the midfield and had some guys up top who could win the head balls."