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Sporting Kansas City-Toronto FC Preview
By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- Sporting Kansas City sits alone atop the Eastern Conference and has seemed to hit its stride.
It has a solid chance to increase its lead facing the league's worst club.
Visiting Kansas City looks to extend its unbeaten streak against Toronto FC to six and earn a third consecutive MLS victory Saturday night.
Sporting KC (13-7-4) followed its U.S. Open Cup title victory over Seattle on Aug. 8 by beating D.C. United 2-1 last Saturday, getting goals from Teal Bunbury and Graham Zusi.
Bunbury also scored in the team's previous league game, a 1-0 victory over New England on Aug. 4. Zusi, who played for the U.S. national team in Wednesday's historic victory in a road friendly versus Mexico, added an assist versus D.C.
Kansas City is two points ahead of New York and three ahead of Houston in the East race with 10 games remaining.
"It's going to be important for us to continue on this same vein," coach Peter Vermes said. "We'll get after the next one but we're in a good position now to keep the pressure on everyone else."
Sporting KC went 0-3-1 to close July, including one friendly loss, but has gone 3-0-1 this month with a friendly draw.
"Even though we've lost here or there, we came back and got back into the form a little bit," Vermes said. "But at the end, I think there's a strong belief in the locker room with the guys that they know they can play and that they can be very competitive with any team in this league."
Kansas City beat Toronto 2-0 on June 16 to improve to 3-0-2 in the last five meetings, and there's little reason to believe that unbeaten streak won't continue.
Toronto (5-13-5) has the fewest points in MLS and is coming off a 2-all draw with Portland last Saturday after allowing the tying goal in the 82nd minute.
Coach Paul Mariner criticized his players for giving up the game's first goal off a corner kick, as defending set pieces has been a weakness for his club all season.
"Whose fault is it? It's the players' fault," Mariner said. "Every team in the world sets up slightly differently. The No. 1 thing that you've got to do, you've got to have that desire inside you that the ball is not going to be won by anyone on the opposition. It can't happen. It's something we're having difficulty dealing with."
Mariner relented and said he was pleased with Toronto's play in the second half, when Eric Hassli and Luis Silva each netted goals. He especially was happy for Hassli, who was playing his first home match since being acquired from Vancouver on July 20.
"We did great in the second half," Hassli said. "We lost two points again tonight, but we have to stay positive. We need to just move on and focus on winning (the next) game."
Toronto, which has allowed two goals in each of its last three games (0-2-1), is 3-1-3 in its last seven at home.
Updated August 17, 2012