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Sporting Kansas City And The Missed Opportunities

For a first place team getting back to health, there are not many worries to go around, but the shooting continues to make Sporting Kansas City seem on the outside looking in. The good news is that they shoot a lot more than anyone else, but controlling that is the key to a successful second half.

Jun 29, 2012; Kansas City, KS, USA; Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry (22) defends against Sporting KC  forward Teal Bunbury (9) in the second half at Livestrong Sporting Park. Chicago won the game 1-0. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
Jun 29, 2012; Kansas City, KS, USA; Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry (22) defends against Sporting KC forward Teal Bunbury (9) in the second half at Livestrong Sporting Park. Chicago won the game 1-0. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

The problem with being a fan is that the urge is always to be nitpicky. This tendency lends itself well to being a baseball fan, as the game can be easily broken down into missed opportunities, bad choices, and inches. The same goes for professional basketball as like baseball it is a team game decided by individual battles and greatness. Soccer doesn't play out quite as easy, as that game of inches becomes a game of yards and the team aspect, especially in MLS, outplays individual performances. However, there is one area to nitpick terribly about it is shooting, so we'll do that today.

Sporting KC started the year with a seven game winning streak that was not defined by offensively brilliance. The defense was steady and the offense did enough. The tougher times this season (hard to say since Sporting is still in first place) have seen the same shot taking with lesser defensive prowess. There isn't much to hate about this team, it controls possession and makes the other team take its few chances. Also, there is no arguing that they create chances for themselves. Just look at this chart:

Club GP G A SHT SOG Goals/ Match Rank Shots/ Match Rank SOG/ Match Rank SOG % Rank Goal % Rank
New England Revolution 16 22 20 206 98 1.38 7 12.88 9 6.13 1 47.57% 1 22.45% 18
New York Red Bulls 17 32 27 200 79 1.88 3 11.76 14 4.65 7 39.50% 2 40.51% 1
Colorado Rapids 18 25 22 236 91 1.39 6 13.11 7 5.06 3 38.56% 3 27.47% 12
Chicago Fire 17 21 17 216 83 1.24 10 12.71 11 4.88 4 38.43% 4 25.30% 15
San Jose Earthquakes 19 36 38 283 105 1.89 1 14.89 2 5.53 2 37.10% 5 34.29% 3
D.C. United 18 34 36 234 86 1.89 2 13.00 8 4.78 5 36.75% 6 39.53% 2
Real Salt Lake 20 31 29 257 94 1.55 4 12.85 10 4.70 6 36.58% 7 32.98% 5
Houston Dynamo 18 22 19 217 76 1.22 11 12.06 13 4.22 13 35.02% 8 28.95% 10
Montreal Impact 19 25 24 250 86 1.32 8 13.16 5 4.53 9 34.40% 9 29.07% 9
LA Galaxy 18 26 24 239 81 1.44 5 13.28 4 4.50 10 33.89% 10 32.10% 6
Columbus Crew 15 16 16 190 64 1.07 14 12.67 12 4.27 12 33.68% 11 25.00% 16
FC Dallas 19 17 9 213 70 0.89 18 11.21 16 3.68 16 32.86% 12 24.29% 17
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 18 19 20 190 61 1.06 15 10.56 17 3.39 17 32.11% 13 31.15% 7
Portland Timbers 17 16 11 200 63 0.94 17 11.76 14 3.71 15 31.50% 14 25.40% 14
Toronto FC 16 18 21 224 69 1.13 13 14.00 3 4.31 11 30.80% 15 26.09% 13
Seattle Sounders FC 19 23 22 250 77 1.21 12 13.16 5 4.05 14 30.80% 16 29.87% 8
Philadelphia Union 15 15 9 151 45 1.00 16 10.07 18 3.00 18 29.80% 17 33.33% 4
Chivas USA 17 11 12 171 50 0.65 19 10.06 19 2.94 19 29.24% 18 22.00% 19
Sporting Kansas City 18 23 25 298 82 1.28 9 16.56 1 4.56 8 27.52% 19 28.05% 11

Note: Credit for this chart should be given to CincySporting over at the Daily Wiz. While I'm nerdy enough that I have been doing this all season, he certainly posted it first after the Chicago 27 shot debacle and should get credit.

There is a bit of selective sorting to emphasize the futility of Sporting KC's shooting, especially as of late. Note, also that Sporting is 2 of 3 from the penalty spot and was given an own goal by Vancouver, which are outside the run of play but in the numbers. There are two problems, one with the data and the other with the recent run of the team.

Problems With Shots On Target Data

This isn't necessarily a problem with the accuracy, but rather with the aspect of a shot taken. When Jacob Peterson hits the post, that is an off-target shot, and the same goes for a flicked on header that slides just wide. For what it's worth, those are both preferable to Graham Zusi's 45th minute try from the circle that counted as a shot on goal or say the many times Teal Bunbury tries a left footed shot that dribbles to the goalkeeper. Just getting shots on target is not enough to solve the problems Sporting KC has with scoring, as the chart also shows that Sporting is slightly below average at scoring their shots on target.

Recent Play Results In More Speculative and Blocked Shots

Either due to defensive awareness of Sporting KC's strengths or simply impatience on their part, Sporting KC is taking many more chances from long range. Outside of Graham Zusi, there aren't many solid strikers from distance. Just think of the shots that Sporting has taken from outside the box, and notice how many of the non-Zusi takes have went twelve rows back.

On the other side of that, most of the shots don't even get through. The problem becomes two-fold, as it is both speculative and essentially a turnover as the deflected shot goes loose with Sporting far up the field. Of the 148 missed shots, 68 were blocked and 40 of those were from distance, as is to be expected assuming the last line of defense is between the goal and the shooter at most times.

Ways to Correct the Problem

The obvious solution is patience. The early season success was predicated more upon shots from point blank range and set pieces. This implies that Sporting doesn't use its possession terribly effective, but also that it has forgotten in its possession dominance that it has other strengths to lean on.

The return of Bobby Convey and Matt Besler should help alleviate some of the stress on the midfield. Convey can provide more traditional wing play which will lead to more space to exploit for both passing and shots in the center of the pitch. The current trend of header goals is not something that is disappearing, and Sporting needs to get back to playing balls to their aerially effective center forwards. On that same regard, the long throws of Besler were sorely missed and give Sporting another unorthodox set piece attack.

It's not all bad news. Mainly, despite sub-optimal shooting, Sporting KC finds itself in first place slightly past the midway point. The other side of this is that if things start going their way and they start putting their chances away, they can argue that they are the MLS Cup favorites, because no one has consistently stepped up to the plate yet this year. The defense is solid on most occasions, and bad injury luck has granted the team slightly more experience and depth than they had a month ago.