While everyone wants to win every game, a draw on the road to open the season is not a bad result. Win at home and draw on the road and playoff bound you should be. Well Sporting KC managed to get the point and now head home to open up Children's Mercy Park for the season.
It was an interesting first match for Sporting Kansas City. Some new faces, some old faces in new positions and a familiar result.
Point 1: Sporting KC started two new faces in their first match, Gerso Fernandes and Ilie Sanchez. Gerso started on the left wing and Ilie at defensive mid and both showed why they were signed. “You’ve got to remember, it’s our first game. We’re all still getting used to each other and the tendencies of some of the players,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes told media after the match.
Gerso worked mostly on the left but did flip to the right at times and seemed on the verge of creating something spectacular several times. Overall, he had 4 shots (1 on goal), 3 key passes, 20 total passes with a 90% completion rate and 5 dribbles.
“As far as his first outing, I thought it was good. I thought at times he was very dangerous going forward, he was very good one-v-one, he recovered some balls, his game instincts were really, really good,” Vermes stated.
Ilie made the most passes with 85 and a 79% completion rate. The Barcelona product kept the ball moving and while never looking flashy seemed to be in the right place at the right time to limit the opponents attack.
Vermes seemed pleased with his first match, “Very calm presence, reads the game extremely well. Not only won a lot of balls through reading the passing lanes, but also just his game instincts whether to go to the left or the right, to cover us because that’s where we needed cover seeing as we were overloaded on one side or what have you, he was really, really good in that regard and then his ball distribution was fantastic.”
It is very likely that both of these players have staked a claim to starting spots at this point and will only improve as they and the rest of the team get to know each other better.
Parting shot #1: With only one real game under their belts, is Ilie really Uri Rosell 2.0 and can Gerso generate more offense than that position did last year?
Point 2: Old faces in new spots, Graham Zusi at right back and Jimmy Medranda at right wing. Okay we can’t really call Medranda old but he has been with SKC for a few years now. It seems like every year or so Vermes moves Medranda to another spot. He started at left wing, then he became the go to left back in 2016. In preseason Medranda appeared to be the understudy to Benny Feilhaber at attacking mid but in this first match Medranda is again a forward, now on the right. Vermes has said he could start Medranda anywhere except keeper and maybe center back and it looks like he is out to prove it.
One of the big stories of the off season was Bruce Arena wanting Zusi to play right back for the national team and Vermes is doing the same. In the match Medranda worked well on the right with Zusi and covered each other well.
Zusi had the most tackles and clearances for SKC with 6 each and 6 crosses as well.
In both cases it seems like an attempt to get good, versatile players on the field at the same time and so far seems to be working, at least defensively. Some goals/assists will need to happen for it to be considered truly successful.
Parting shot #2: Are the different positions for Medranda and Zusi a good move so far?
Point 3: No substitutions. All the starters went the full 90 although Soony Saad was up and receiving instructions in the 91st minute just in case the game went a little longer. If Saad made it into the game it probably would have been a bit of an effort to waste time to close the game out and secure the road point. Vermes was asked about the lack of substitutions after the match.
“It was very simple,” Vermes explained. ”I said to the guys on the bench ‘I don’t see a need to change when all of our guys were, I thought, playing well,’ and you could tell that they were getting their rest at the right times to recover and get right back in. I don’t think just because you have three subs means you have to use them, I just felt the 11 guys that were out there were in a good rhythm and I didn’t want to disrupt that piece.”
SKC was playing well and still possessing the ball significantly more than DC United despite the home team making all three subs at the 61st, 69th and 76th minutes. When Vermes was asked about if SKC’s possession allowed his team to get a little more rest he responded.
“First off, it’s a game early on in the season so both teams are going to sort of be at the same level of fitness. I think the other piece of it is that we did have good possession during the game and we were in control a lot of times with the ball, which was a big part of our game and I thought that helped us throughout the game as far as a conditioning perspective.”
“The last piece is that positionally, all the guys were very good in regards to their role and responsibility which didn’t put us in situations where we had to spend a lot of energy chasing the game because either we gave away the ball or we were just in bad allocations of our positions. We didn’t have that tonight and that really helped us.”
So to concede the point that Sporting KC was still playing well with the starters, that still leaves the question if a fresh sub could have accomplished on of two things. First, some fresh legs that may have changed the pace even though the other guys were still performing at a high rate. Secondly, a sub could have given a different look. Saad or Blessing or Salloi could have presented a different challenge to the defense to work out.
Parting shot #3: Should have Vermes made the sub or was leaving the starters in the right move?
Bonus point: Save of the year candidate already? Okay, not the MLS save of the year but maybe the Sporting KC end of year award kind of save of the year? Right at the 66 minute mark, DC United was denied three times by three different Sporting KC players.
First Jimmy Medranda saves what could have been an own goal off of Roger Espinoza’s head. Medranda was at the back post but his clearance fell in the middle of the box for another attempt.
This time Dom Dwyer on the other post was in the spot to head it off the line. Again the ball ended up in the box for yet another attempt and this time Tim Melia was able to dive and turn it aside and out of danger.
Bonus Parting shot #1: Proof positive why teams should always have someone on each post?
Extra Bonus point: A familiar tune for fans. Sporting KC out-possessed and out-shot their opponent but did not out-score them. Yes there are some new players. Yes Dwyer is probably in mid-preseason form after missing some time from off-season surgery. Yes it was a good point on the road.
Bonus Parting shot #2: Is it a product of players still getting used to each other or a rehash of past years and similar results? And how long should we wait to see if the offense actually is better than last year?