We aren’t exactly clear what the plan was during the 0-0 draw. Sporting Kansas City appeared to come out and try to take the attack to the Portland Timbers, but it didn’t exactly go as planned. Here are a few quick thoughts from the game.
Matt Besler = Man of the Match
Besler was exactly where he was supposed to be all night long. He had nine of the teams 26 clearances. He had an interception, six recoveries and two blocks. Looking beyond the stats, he was just where he was supposed to be all the time. He also was a key cog in moving the ball into attacking space. The midfield struggled to build from the back as they typically do but Besler had several balls over the top into space that helped alleviate pressure and start the attack. Overall, the defense played fantastic and even Sinovic who struggled at times with Dairon Asprilla, got the job done.
Khiry Shelton is Struggling in the Playoffs
There were times in the first leg against Real Salt Lake where Shelton wasn’t terrible. The same can’t be said for the second leg. Against Portland he mostly struggled again. He was abysmal in the first half but had a few good moments in the second. Here is his unsuccessful passes, crosses, dribbles and of course that shot.
Shelton accounted for quite a few turnovers and some of his “passes” (the red squares above) are so short you have to wonder what team he was playing for. Also, something that doesn’t show up in the stats, is all the lost 50/50 balls, specifically in the air. How can the tallest field player on the team be the worst player in the air? And don’t get me started on that “shot” where he just needed to tap it in. I’ll give him some leeway since it was a tight spot, but you have to think Diego Rubio or even Krisztian Nemeth finish that. I can’t imagine a world where Rubio doesn’t start on Thursday.
Espinoza Wasn’t Too Hot Either
I lost count of the amount of really bad passes Roger Espinoza had in the game. Overall, he had 18 unsuccessful passes, but everyone misses on passes in every game. Roger’s just were unforced many times, which is really unacceptable. Maybe it had something to do with the game plan. Maybe it was that awful turf at Providence Park (ask Larrys Mabiala about that). Regardless, Roger needs to get better in the second leg.
Sporting KC Struggled to Pass Overall
SKC ended the game with a 74% passing accuracy. One percent better than Portland, but nearly 10 percent worse than their season average (83.8%). That is further reflected in their possession percentage, just 49.7% (they averaged 57.1% in the regular season — 2nd best in the league). Credit to Portland who came to play and didn’t sit in as they often do, but they also played a bit of an ugly, rough game at times. Which brings us to...
Was Robert Sabiga Instructed to Not Give Yellows?
Coming into the game four players (Roger Espinoza, Diego Chara, Diego Valeri and Liam Ridgewell) were on a yellow and if they picked up another they’d be out for the second leg back in KC on Thursday. Well stunningly, they all avoided yellow cards. Espinoza just committed one foul, but he suffered a game high five. There was a moment very late where Roger almost reached out and grabbed a jersey but seemed to remember he couldn’t get a yellow.
Portland on the other hand committed multiple yellow card worthy fouls. Valeri went hard into Seth Sinovic’s ankle as Sinovic stole a ball from him (I’ll say Valeri seemed surprised, but that doesn’t negate it being a card). Later Valeri put his studs into the foot/ankle of Espinoza and he avoided a card somehow. Chara had several heavy challenges as well. In any regular season game they’d have picked up yellow cards but Sabiga let Portland play harsh.
In the end only players not on cards picked up cards. All those calls seemed correct (1 to PTFC, 3 to SKC) but it doesn’t make the other missed calls right. Vermes did say he thought Sabiga “did a great job.” I can’t agree with that.
Despite the Ref Hate, VAR Got it Right
Not just VAR, but the assistant referee correctly raised his flag to take away Portland’s goal. Timbers fans can cry all they want, but the ref got it right. They reviewed it to be sure and confirmed they got it right. I’m generally a fan of VAR despite what you may have read elsewhere. I’m glad they got the reviewable calls right.
Revenge of the Post
How sweet was it to see the post that Saad Abdul-Salaam’s PK bounced off of (on it’s second bounce) three years ago keep Portland off the scorecard? Jorge Villafana was very close to scoring but that post showed up again.
How does Peter Vermes Not Make Subs?
PV on not making sub until very late: "The game had a rhythm to it and I did not want to disrupt it." Did think he should have brought Johnny off 5 minutes sooner #SportingKC— Thad (@TheBackpost) November 26, 2018
After the game PV himself said, “the game had a rhythm to it and I did not want to disrupt it.” I guess the “rhythm” could be that it was headed to a 0-0 result and he was okay with that. Daniel Salloi and Khiry Shelton weren’t good, but they went the whole 90. Yohan Croizet somehow subbed on for Johnny Russell, the only effective attacker on the field. And he did so with no time to make an impact. I’m not even sure that Yohan got a touch.
Sporting KC’s bench is deeper than it’s ever been. Vermes showed me he didn’t trust them to come in and change the pace of the game. It would have been great to see the speed of Gerso Fernandes when the ball was pinging from end to end out of control. It would have been great to see Nemeth come on and actually maintain possession (or get a chance at that Russell cross). It seems Vermes only makes subs when he’s behind. If that’s the case, I guess we should all hope no subs are needed on Thursday because SKC are so far ahead.