for this game

Sporting, D.C. pick up where they left off

Mar 9, 2012 - 9:27 PM Washington, D.C. (Sports Network) - D.C. United will kick off its 2012 Major League Soccer season with a tough encounter against one the league's top sides from last year in Sporting Kansas City.

United and Sporting closed out the 2011 regular season against one another with Kansas City claiming a 1-0 win on the night thanks to a 54th-minute strike from Matt Besler, helping the club finish the regular season in first place in the Eastern Conference.

D.C. United's record against Kansas City over the past four seasons is indicative of their slide from among the league's elite. United has not won at K.C. since July of 2007, which is the same year that D.C. last made the postseason. The four-year playoff drought is the longest of the storied club's history and is the second-longest active streak in MLS - Toronto FC has not made the postseason any of its five years in the league.

But head coach Ben Olsen, in his second year in charge at D.C., has assembled a squad that could very well compete for a postseason berth.

The United back line has been solidified with the additions of Robbie Russell and Emiliano Dudar, while the signing of Marcelo Saragosa should provide the team with some much-needed experience in the midfield.

It will be a tough introduction for United's newcomers as they will come up against the East Conference first-place finishers right off the bat.

Sporting, guided by Peter Vermes in his third year as head coach, looked dead in the water early on in 2011, but once Livestrong Sporting Park opened in June, the club made a miraculous turnaround to finish the regular season atop the East with 51 points on the year.

Most of the same pieces from the squad are returning for Sporting in 2012, but a couple of changes have been made.

Bobby Convey will provide some versatility after making the move East from the San Jose Earthquakes. He can occupy a spot anywhere on the left, either in defense or in the midfield.

Convey's addition alleviates some of the burden of Sporting's key departures as Davy Arnaud, Omar Bravo, and Jeferson have all left the club.

Sporting will also rely heavily on its deadly attacking trio of Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong, and Kei Kamara. The three strikers combined for 23 goals last season, roughly half of the team's offensive output.

Graham Zusi should be in line for a more featured role in 2012, though it is unclear whether or not he will suit up for the opener at RFK Stadium on Saturday. The midfielder was held out of training recently with tightness in his right quadricep muscle.

"It's nothing too bad," said Zusi. "I just don't want to make it any worse. It's a little frustrating, because you always want to be out with the out with the guys and playing, especially leading up to the first game of the season, but I want to be as sharp and fit as possible."