MLS's marquee matchup: New England-Kansas City

MLS PREVIEW
NEW ENGLAND (8-3-6) vs. KANSAS CITY (8-5-5)
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Praise be given to The Worldwide Leader in Sports for adding the perceived MLS David Beckham debut Sunday against Toronto FC to its schedule, but between the lines, New England-Kansas City at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night is the marquee matchup of the week, if not the month.

The hometown Revs lead the East, the Wizards are a point back in second, and when the teams last met, Eddie Johnson lit up New England with a hat trick in a 4-3 spectacular. Rematches of shootouts often fizzle rather than sizzle, yet these are two strong teams playing crisp soccer, at least on the offensive end.

Kansas City has conceded four goals in the past two games, tying Colorado, 2-2, and edging past Chivas USA, 3-2, so Wizards Kerry Zavagnin and Sasha Victorine may stay at home to track Andy Dorman and Jeff Larentowicz. Both Zavagnin and Larentowicz scored last weekend, with the begoggled Larentowicz smashing home the winner from a free kick with eight minutes left to down Real Salt Lake, 2-1.

If both teams clog the penalty areas, good scoring chances may fall to midfielders drifting in behind the congestion. Revs' Shalrie Joseph and Steve Ralston both scored in the 4-3 loss May 26 at Gillette Stadium. (The teams conclude the season series Aug. 19 at Arrowhead Stadium.)

New England shared six goals with Houston before beating RSL, and the Revs have conceded 1.5 goals per game at home, so Coach Steve Nicol will likely tighten up his system as well. Pat Noonan has scored in the last two games, and his sense of space and clean touches can lure defenders away from Taylor Twellman and Dorman.

Johnson has resumed scoring since returning from U.S. duty and unless distracted by transfer rumors may be even more dangerous than in the last meeting, since forward partner Davy Arnaud is playing his best soccer of 2007. His three assists in the last four games are only hints as to how effective he's been lately pushing balls to teammates or nicking past tacklers on the dribble. Scott Sealy is out with an adductor strain, so how Arnaud uses his touches will determine how many opportunities can be created for Carlos Marinelli, Michael Harrington and Victorine as well as Johnson.

Or someone can just lay it off to Zavagnin and let him blast away. It worked against Chivas USA with a 30-yard Goal of the Week that is a serious candidate for the yearly honor.

Of the two keepers. Matt Reis' recent play surpasses that of Kevin Hartman by a notch or two. The result may come down to which of the two is sharpest.

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