BRIDGEVIEW, IL - MAY 12: Dominic Oduro #8 of the Chicago Fire celebrates his goal as (L-R) Jimmy Nielsen #1, Aurelien Collin #78 and Matt Besler #5 of the Sporting Kansas City look on during the second half in an MLS match on May 12, 2012 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated Sporting Kansas City 2-1. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Some things are easy to fix and others not as much, but one thing's clear something is amiss with Sporting Kansas City.
I would apologize about being so late to react to the loss, but a couple missed trains back from Chicago and a nice head cold from the cold steady rain. Given my luck, in a year where the weather has been fantastic, I attended my first Sporting KC game of the year in the cold rain of Chicago. The streak in no part should be blamed on a lack of support. The Cauldron and cold rain together created an environment like the games I first attended at Arrowhead in high school. The place was cavernous save for the one supporters group having a party down in their section. I digress from my point already, just felt the love needed to be shared.
As for the on the field product, we saw what happened. Three mistakes and there goes the game, perhaps not unfairly. Aurelien Collin did commit a foul that earned the penalty and Roger Espinoza did give that elbow that earned a quick but probably fair red card. Kei Kamara worst of all gave up the most inexplicable goal of the young season, even counting the own goal that started this losing streak. However, these are just mistakes, even the best teams make mistakes (for example, Lescott giving away a goal to QPR in Man City's title clinching win) but they overcome them and for the past three matches several things have prevented Sporting Kansas City from doing so.
One of the most noticeable qualities of the loss of Roger Espinoza in the second half against Chicago was how little it changed the flow of the game. Of course, it made it harder to throw men forward at the end, but philosophically it changed little. This is not a knock on Epsinoza's quality but rather an acknowledgement of the haphazard setup of our midfield. It doesn't matter who we lost to a card, the man removed would always have essentially been a center midfielder.
The formation Sporting plays is referred to as a 4-3-3, but that is a misnomer. That makes everyone think of lines of players and in reality Sporting only defends in this formation. On offense, they spread out and create a more Napoli-like formation. With the center backs wide, the fullbacks advanced and on the touch lines, and a midfield triangle with Julio Cesar as the anchor. The strange part about Sporting's attack is the almost complete lack of Julio Cesar in it. However, he doesn't fall back into a third center back role either. This hasn't been a problem this year as much as last, but I just wanted to acknowledge it hasn't gone away. It simply means that the defenders can't turn the ball over because Sporting is even more prone to breakaways than other teams with their high two-man line.
On the offensive end, they have controlled possession, but if you look at the Opta heat maps you'll see it occurred away from goal. When CJ Sapong is upfield someone needs to fill that void, just look at how well it worked with Convey sneaking in from the left. There is a lack of any activity around the opponent's box. Sure this was exacerbated by being down to ten men, but Sporting hasn't been near goal enough in the flow of play. The majority of their chances in the box come off of set pieces and relying on MLS refs to provide you with set piece chances is no way to survive. I mentioned last week that when Convey and Kamara come inside it clutters things up in the midfield, but once Sporting went down to ten last week they should have done this more.
Too Much Faith in the Same Eleven From Vermes
I am a big fan of our starting 11, but there is no sport in the world where rest is a necessity like soccer. The other side of the same coin is form, and if a player doesn't have it perhaps a change is needed. Sporting KC does not have the depth to change at every spot, but where they do have depth they should use it. Julio Cesar this week again looked out of whack, and hasn't been the same since his early season injury. Paulo Nagamura in less duty has looked more composed and more sure of his positioning. For me, this is an obvious change of almost like for like players.
The same can be said for our forwards. Teal Bunbury has looked lost coming on as a sub this year, and we all know how well CJ Sapong works in that situation based on last year and the opener of 2012. Why not revert back to having Teal start sometimes, and then subbing CJ. It may be a common gripe of mine, but I'm keep stating it until it comes true. Jacob Peterson for Convey is a natural switch as well, but that is perhaps less due to form and more just to get rest for Convey. Michael Harrington has does a great job filling in for Seth Sinovic, and I have no fear about him filling in for Myers either if necessary
As for the other six men, there probably isn't much hope for them as their backups are either not game tested or undefined. It just seems that Vermes got overly confident in his starters and forgot that everybody slumps and sometimes players legs just can't carry them.
The idea behind a slide tackle is that if you have to do it you're already beat. Two matches in a row have been marked by Aurelien Collin slide tackles that led to penalties. Collin is one of the better slide tacklers in the league and this year has done it with much aplomb in the open field. Inside the 18, it's not a solution. Vermes is going to catch a lot of flak for his comments on the debut referee in last week's match, but he isn't completely wrong. MLS does not have FIFA sanctioned referees and like any referees they just have to go by the rules and their eyes. On almost every challenge in the 18, they will be trailing and what they will see most times is a challenge from behind that got the player and the ball never comes into their sight.
The Espinoza red card was quick and decisive, and right within the rules of the game. I'm not implying that it was any less harsh, just simply acknowledging that it was not ridiculous in the scope of the game. The problem with Sporting KC is they live and die by the sword, in this case, their dervish style of play in the midfield. They press hard and sometimes come upon opponents out of control which lead to a lot of stupid yellow cards and in this case a straight red. That being said sometimes they lose their composure and even worse fouls occur, like Espinoza's awful elbow and Kei Kamara's hack-job on Domonic Oduro to seal the game. As fans, we're going to have to live with this, but I imagine there will be more games this year that we end with ten men.
What's Next For Sporting KC?
Losing streaks just like winning streaks produce extreme emotion. Sporting was not going to go 34-0 this year and it is unreasonable to expect even a more than 2 pts. a match pace. The MLS record for points in a season (without shootouts) is 68, and Sporting was on pace for 102 after 7 and 87 after the Portland loss. Their fall from grace was expected in the grand scheme of things. Immediately, missing Roger Espinoza for their next game might be the biggest loss. In the long term, not much has changed. Their are simple fixes and larger problems, but all in all this is still an MLS Cup contender if only because they play in a weakened conference. The lack of the prima donnas in New York is a concern, but Sporting also seems to be a team doomed by the month of May and perhaps their own over-confidence more than completely lost.