Note: You may have noticed a new name atop this post. The answer is: yes, we have added another talented author here at The Daily Wiz. SombraAla, as he is on Twitter, as well, is someone I met earlier in the preseason at Sporting KC training, so from time to time he'll even offer a second, differing perspective on the happenings at practice throughout the week. But, for now, he's much more versed in the tactics of the game than I, much like our other author, Justin Jacobson. Anyway, this is his debut post - breaking down the performances of the new faces Saturday against Chivas. -Andy Edwards
If you're like many Sporting Kansas City fans, Saturday evening's match against Chivas USA was your first opportunity to see a bunch of new faces for the team. Even if you had the opportunity to see the team train, either here or in Arizona, there's really nothing like a game with actual meaning to get a feel for new players. We should not forget the familiar faces either - players can do a lot of development over the off-season and veteran players should not be ignored, though that will have to be another post.
It is probably worth noting that it is only one game, and against a rebuilding Chivas team, at that. We will definitely learn more as the season goes on, but it's never too early to start with the over-analyzation.
From a high level, there are a few things which are easily noticeable: Omar Bravo knows how to finish if you give him the chance and C.J. Sapong is going to be a handful for defenders this year (when he's out there, at least). Sure, there's a lot more than that, but you'll have to join me after the break.
Of all the players brought in, none will be as important as Omar Bravo, which makes complete sense when you factor his status as a designated player. Honestly, Bravo's night did not start off very good - he had poor passes, was offside and really didn't get much done initially. Vermes is quoted saying that Bravo was anxious for the opening minutes, and I personally buy that. After he settled down, he showed exactly why we're paying him the amount we are. Suffice to say that last year there were many opportunities similar to the two he converted that we were not able capitalize on, but he showed his class by making both finishes look simple. He also seemed to be in the right position making the right moves at the right times.
People who will like him: Mexico national team fans, people who like seeing goals
People who will dislike him: Opposing team's goalkeepers, people who get confused by people with last names that are also unrelated English words.
C. J. Sapong
When your rookie first round draft pick finds himself on the scoresheet after less than two minutes of play, therein setting a record for the fastest goal by an MLS rookie (beating out teammate Michael Harrington for the honor), you have to say that he is probably a good draft pick. Interestingly enough, there were a lot of people questioning the selection of Sapong when Sporting KC chose him 10th overall on January 13th. Yes, I realize that he was helped out immensely by a horrific mistake by Chivas defender Zemanski, but you still have to give the boy credit. He was the one who reacted to the ball quickest, he had a great move to get himself alone in front of goal and he put the ball in the back of the net.
The rest of the first half, Sapong continued to make a nuisance of himself, using his physical presence to win his fair share of balls and making the Chivas defense look bad on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, Sapong also had a part to play in both Chivas goals, but I think it'd be a bit harsh to make too much out of that - rookies make mistakes and you'd hope they wouldn't end up costing goals, but at least it didn't cost the team any points. He has some room to grow, for sure, but he's starting off in an excellent place and we all saw Teal Bunbury's growth last year; if Sapong is able to replicate that then we will have a formidable front line, indeed.
One final note on Sapong, but it seems that a front-line consisting of Sapong and Bunbury could create all sorts of problems for opposition defenses, and the two seem to have lots of similarities. It seems like Vermes has found a particular pattern of player he believes works well in MLS, and I can't say from what I've seen so far that I disagree at all. Of course, it's possible that Bunbury will garner enough attention from abroad that he may not be with us forever more, so having an understudy like Sapong seems like a good idea.
People who will like him: Fans worried about Bunbury leaving for Europe, people needing an excuse to go out for BBQ
People who will dislike him: People named Birahim Diop, opposing defenders.
I know what you're thinking, "how the heck do you pronounce a name like that?" Honestly, I have no idea. Fortunately, the ease of pronouncing a player's name correctly has little to no impact on that player's ability to play and contribute. Milos Stojcev showed his ability to pass and shoot when he was given the opportunity, though it wasn't the best day for Sporting's midfield against Chivas; which is not too unexpected considering the formation Chivas was employing, which gave them a clear numerical advantage through the midfield. Milos showed great vision in the first half, looking upfield early after a Chivas turnover to get Kamara just the right pass to start the counter. Play like this will be key for Sporting while playing their 4-3-3, especially with the speed that we can put up top. What makes me even more excited about Stojcev was a blistering shot (well saved by Thornton) he took well into the second half. If he can do that consistently then it will force opposing defenses to respect him from distance and open up space for the forwards to get in behind.
People who will like him: Strikers getting setup by his passing and crosses, people who like names with accents and symbols all over the place.
People who will dislike him: People who think jersey numbers should not go well into the 80's (applies to Bravo, too), players having to respect his passing and shooting ability.
The Brazilian central defender Julio Cesar Santos fills one of the most obvious voids that Sporting Kansas City had going into the offseason, especially after Jimmy Conrad's contract was allowed to expire. James, over at the Sporting Times blog, had a few concerns about Cesar going into the season, and while I'd love to be able to put those to rest, I don't think that this was the game which really put those concerns (particularly that his tackling is suspect) to the test. Cesar didn't have to deal with too many situations where he was being run at by attackers but was instead tested mainly with crosses into the box, probably due to Chivas only lining up with one forward and relying mostly on the extra midfielders to get the ball on the outsides to serve in crosses. For this type of defending, I think he did quite well and was in the right place to intercept multiple dangerous crosses.
If there was something that he did seem to be lacking, it was that the whole backline didn't seem terribly organized all game and, as the most senior and experienced defender, he probably should've done more to keep everyone on the same page. Some people had noticed that it seemed Nielsen and Cesar were arguing at the end of the game, and I tend to think it was Nielsen telling Cesar that he needed to take better control. Sure, Besler also could be the leader back there, but if neither guy is doing it then I tend to look towards Cesar to step up and fill the void.
People who will like him: Espinoza and Harrington (or other outside backs) for being in the right position to defend a cross after they get caught upfield, people who think that every team needs a Brazilian
People who will dislike him: People who run blogs named the Sporting Times, those who can't help but think of Roman emperors when the see his name.
Okay, down to the last new face making an appearance against Chivas: Luke Sassano. Playing at right back, Sassano replaced the injured Michael Harrington, which I personally feel are big shoes to fill, particularly in the system that Sporting plays. While I don't want to get down on a player after just one game, especially when he is in a new system with new responsibilities and probably didn't play with the 1st team all that often in training, but I thought that he was one of the weakest links out there for the game. It could just be that Chivas was going to attack down their left regardless of who was back there, but a good portion of their pressure came right through Sassano. That being said, he didn't have any major gaffs or cause any goals. I wouldn't be upset to see him out there again if Mikey weren't available, though I also wouldn't mind seeing Chance Myers given the opportunity at times, either.
There was, however, one particular situation which I felt like Sassano could've done better. In the first half, on the play that resulted in Nielsen's spectacular kick-save, it was Sassano who was too far upfield that resulted in the wide open Mondaini. Now, things like that happen, but it didn't seem that Sassano tried terribly hard to make up the ground and get back into the play. He didn't give up on it either, that would be much worse, but I would have liked to see him try to make up for his mistake; instead it was Besler who came all the way across from the left center back position to put any sort of pressure on Mondaini. Perhaps if it were late in the second half, I could understand, but less than 15 minutes into the game I feel that he should be giving a bit more effort than that. Particularly when there are other players out there vying for your position in the depth chart.
It is just one play, and I'm not going to hold it against him or make too much of it, though I will be watching to see if he does it again.
People who will like him: People worried about Sporting's depth at right back, Star Wars fans who like anyone named 'Luke'
People who will dislike him: Former first picks who seem to be behind him on the depth chart, people who think that it's about time he updates his Twitter profile.