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Scouting Report: Sporting Kansas City

Taking a look at the Crew's Wednesday opponent, Sporting Kansas City.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After a game in which Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter called "our worst performance of the year," the Crew have to respond quickly with a Wednesday game against defending MLS Cup Champions Sporting Kansas City.

It has now been six games since the Black and Gold last won a game - 2-0 over the Chicago Fire - and have only one win in their last 16 games since opening the season with three straight victories. After the 4-1 thrashing at the hands of the New York Red Bulls, Columbus just wants to put the game behind them.

"It's sort of a cliché sometimes when you say you get right back after it but I think that's the best thing for this team right now," Berhalter said this week.

"We were extremely disappointed with that performance on Saturday as we've spoken about and the manner in which we conceded goals and the only way to do it is get back out there and make it better."

It doesn't get any easier for the Crew on Wednesday, welcoming a Kansas City team that sits on 29 points and is second in the Eastern Conference standings and third overall in Major League Soccer. After having issues handling a dangerous attack in New York, Columbus faces an equally potent offense.

"They're a good possession team, they like to throw numbers forward, and they've got a lot of weapons," defender Michael Parkhurst said of SKC's offense.

"Obviously [Dom Dwyer]'s got a bunch of goals... Their wingers are good. They're good one-on-one, they get in behind. Then [Graham Zusi] and [Benny Feilhaber] underneath are a handful. They're both very good players, two of the best in the league. That's not even counting maybe their biggest strength, which is set pieces where they get a ton of goals."

Dwyer has been one of the surprises of the season in MLS. The striker spent the majority of 2013 with Sporting's USL Pro affiliate Orlando City S.C., scoring 15 goals in 13 appearances before returning to his parent club and finishing the season with two goals.

Dwyer has since carried that momentum into this season, scoring 14 goals in 18 games, second best in MLS.

"Last year he obviously had a great ending to the year," Berhalter said of Dwyer this week.

"He came on after his performance with Orlando and he built his momentum up and then this year again he's right on top of it, scoring all these goals. He's a menace and he's a very good finisher with his left foot. Great work rate. He's a good player.

"I think it's a great challenge for our center backs and our whole defense."

Dwyer has scored more than half of Kansas City's goals this season, but he is benefiting from an offense that has been successful all around.

Zusi not only represented the United States in the 2014 World Cup, but provided two assists on important goals.

"He's very dynamic," Crew defender Chad Barson said in regards to Zusi.

"Obviously technically he's really clean and he combines well with his teammates. He understands the game very well, where to move off the ball."

"I think he's a player who's very versatile. He always finds a way. If the game isn't going his way he changes and adjusts," midfielder Ethan Finlay added, admitting that Zusi is a player he could learn from.

Despite only playing 11 games this year, Zusi is tied for the team lead in assists with four. He provides dangerous service in the run of play but also gives them a dangerous set piece taker.

Feilhaber, a former U.S. international, has quietly become one of the best attacking midfielders in MLS since joining Kansas City last season. He might go under the radar league wide, but the Black and Gold are well aware of his abilities.

"He's definitely somebody who can float in and out of games but when he's on I think technically he's one of the better midfielders in the league," Parkhurst, a former teammate of Feilhaber's on the national team, said this week.

"There's not too many guys that can play that underneath striker role better than Benny. Technically he's really solid. He can provide that through pass, that little bit of flair that sometimes you need in the attacking third, he can bring that, and he can finish his chances when they come around the box."

To help stymie the attack and dam the flow of goals that got through on Saturday are Giancarlo Gonzláez and Waylon Francis. The two Costa Ricans returned Friday, but will be available for selection for Berhalter for the first time since May 17.

"It's great. Obviously we missed them," Berhalter said. "They've both been gone over two months so it's been tough. It's great to have them back."

Parkhurst is excited to have his two teammates back alongside him, especially with the experience they now bring.

"It's great to have them back," he said on Tuesday. "To have two guys with World Cup experience now is really big for the team. I thought we were playing well defensively before they left and hopefully we can get back to that level quickly."

Sporting will provide a stiff challenge, especially considering they scored twice on the Black and Gold with both Gonzalez and Francis in the lineup.

This is a big week for the Crew who are attempting to get things going in the right direction and have the opportunity to pick up six points on Eastern Conference opponents this week at home. The need for wins is not lost on the players.

"We need to get results," Barson said. "It's a point-driven league and you don't get points for playing well, you get points for winning. This is a great opportunity for us to do that."