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Ryan Smith Gone For 2011: Where Does Sporting KC Go From Here?

So long to <strong>Sporting KC</strong> winger and dribbling extraordinaire <strong>Ryan Smith</strong>. We hardly knew ye.
So long to Sporting KC winger and dribbling extraordinaire Ryan Smith. We hardly knew ye.

On Tuesday afternoon, Sporting Kansas City announced that second year winger Ryan Smith would be leaving the country and heading back to his native England for "family reasons," thus he would not be returning to the team the rest of the 2011 season. In the team's official press release, technical director and head coach Peter Vermes cited distance from families as one major issue for any international player coming to America. "It's never easy for international players who come to MLS when they have to live far away from their families. This situation is no different."

There is already speculation abound that Smith has played his last game for Sporting KC. If that is to be the case, he would end his Sporting career with 4 goals and 7 assists in 32 games played, 26 of which were starts. Smith immediately made his arrival known, scoring a goal and setting up another in his club debut in the 2010 season opener against DC United. From there, he went on to make a name for himself with his flashy dribbling skills, no doubt harkening back to his Arsenal youth academy days, and deft touch on the ball. In true reality, there really was, and still is, not a player in the league capable of some of the things Smith routinely pulled off.

This isn't the first time, though, that Smith will have been away from the team for this very reason. In combination with a couple minor injuries, Smith missed the last three games of the 2010 season, as he was back home in England, tending to his ailing mother. After offseason knee surgery leading up to 2011, Smith missed the first four games of the season. His lone goal of the 2011 season was a 75th minute equalizer against Colorado Rapids on May 28 that broke a five game losing streak within the league.

While Sporting got along for part of the season without Smith, and he hasn't had the biggest of impacts since returning, it may seem like this isn't a debilitating loss for KC. But, there are a few things that this means for the team, and most of them (if not all) are negative.

With Smith Gone, The Following Are Now True...

  • Designated player and forward Omar Bravo will almost exclusively play on the left side of the attack, assuming Vermes sticks with some variation of his favored 4-3-3 formation. This also likely means no more Bravo as the "attacking midfielder", either.
  • With that, midfielders Graham Zusi and Milos Stojcev are probably the two to beat as attacking midfielder. Bravo's class is far superior, but he is likely unavailable here. So, Zusi probably plays a bit less as a forward now.
  • Forward Kei Kamara's minutes just went through the roof, because with Bravo now being horse-tied to the left side, there is virtually no one else on the team - sans Chance Myers, who has settled into the rightback spot nicely over the last couple weeks - that can effectively create on the right.
  • Forwards CJ Sapong and Teal Bunbury are nearly unaffected by this development. They seem to be stuck in a one-off for the center forward job. Smith could never play there. Not in a million years.
  • The 4-3-3 seems to fit a lot more. For all his abilities to create, Smith was always going to be more effective as a left midfielder in a 4-4-2, something that does not exist in a 4-3-3. Also, he didn't have the knack of being a true "forward" and striker of the ball.

Obviously losing a player of Smith's sheer ability and caliber aren't going to make a team better, but perhaps it clears up an issue that Vermes has been fighting with the last month since Smith's return: too many players at one position.

Below are the starting groupings with three forwards on field and available bench players:

Left Center Right Bench
Bravo Bunbury Kamara Sapong, Zusi, Myers
Bravo Sapong Kamara Bunbury, Zusi, Myers
Bravo Kamara Zusi/Myers Bunbury, Zusi, Myers

And, for comparison, the possible groupings before Smith's departue:

Left Center Right Bench
Bravo Bunbury Kamara Sapong, Smith
Bravo Sapong Kamara Bunbury, Smith
Smith Bunbury Bravo Kamara, Sapong
Smith Sapong Bravo Kamara, Bunbury
Smith Kamara Bravo Bunbury, Sapong
Bravo Bunbury Smith Sapong, Kamara
Bravo Sapong Smith Bunbury, Kamara

Though, that resolution to a so-called "problem" could all prove to be unfounded over the next two-plus months when Sporting play 15 league games in 10 weeks. Yeah, it's probably going to hurt a bit more than anyone wants to admit. Who was I kidding? His ability to flip from left to right, as shown in the second table, gave Vermes a multitude of options. I'm completely rationalizing at this point.