For the first time this preseason, we all got the chance to watch Sporting Kansas City in action. It was the fourth game of preseason but the first that was both open to the public and streamed live on YouTube. SKC took on the New York Red Bulls, who are preparing for CONCACAF Champions League which starts next week. Because of that the Red Bulls starters, minus Felipe, played all 90 minutes except for one substitution. Sporting KC on the other hand played two different squads for each 45 minute half.
Zusi and Medranda May Miss the Opener
Graham Zusi and Jimmy Medranda were both unavailable again. This is the third straight preseason game that both of these players have missed. After the game Vermes indicated it was nothing serious and they were just being cautious with the injuries.
In prior seasons he’s said the same thing about Justin Mapp, who went on to miss all but 43 minutes of the 2016 season. Although this is clearly a massive overreaction, it’s not impossible that they simply won’t be ready to go. It would probably make everyone feel a lot better if they both got a few minutes before the Mobile Mini Sun Cup was over in Tucson.
Shelton is the Starting CF
All offseason, after both Robb Heineman and Peter Vermes indicated the club would go out and find a #9, everyone has been hoping for a splashy signing at center forward. As in a Designated Player with a proven ability to score goals. Instead, that signing hasn’t come (though Vermes and company insist they are still working on it).
For the second straight preseason game Khiry Shelton, who came over in the Saad Abdul-Salaam trade from NYCFC, has started over Diego Rubio. Shelton didn’t look bad and in fact always looked to be making runs, even when his teammates didn’t spot him. Rubio didn’t look bad and was constantly hustling out there. Rubio may have been in a tougher spot playing with the “second team.” It often looked more like a 4-5-1 with Rubio all alone up top as the wingers for the second team were dropping a lot deeper than was the case with the first team.
The First Team Allowed a Goal and Scored None
The Red Bulls are definitely playing their ideal starting lineup (again, outside of Felipe) so maybe SKC should be given a break. They played Felipe Gutierrez for the first time at all and Yohan Croizet played on the wing for the first time. The Red Bulls had just played together this past Saturday against Phoenix Rising (USL) while SKC hadn’t played in nearly two weeks.
All that said, the first team gave up a soft goal after Jaylin Lindsey and Daniel Salloi both failed to clear the ball off a corner and Tim Melia let a ball get past him that he probably saves in 2017. To add to that, the first team couldn’t score, despite several chances. This won’t stop the fans from freaking out about the lack of a true goal scorer.
Gutierrez is going to be Amazing
As mentioned above, Felipe Gutierrez made his debut for Sporting KC. He was lined up as the attacking midfielder pushing Croizet out to the wing. After the game, Vermes confirmed Gutierrez is clearly a #8 (not a #10), the box-to-box midfielder role that is currently occupied by Roger Espinoza. No word on why Gutierrez played at the #10 spot instead, but he actually looked pretty good considering he’s had limited time with the team.
Felipe made some really solid passes and delivered a few great leading through balls that led to chances or near chances (oh the shots not taken!) for SKC. If you give Gutierrez more time, he should develop more chemistry and lead to more chances.
Croizet Doesn’t Below on the Wing
Sure it was only his first game lining up out wide (at least we assume based on the other three preseason game lineups that were put out). But Croizet just couldn’t stop himself from constantly drifting inside. There is an argument that Gerso does the same thing, playing as an inverted winger, but Gerso runs up the wing before cutting in late.
Croizet was often inside when he should have stayed wide to create width. Because he was inside so much, it seemed like 17-year-old right back (playing for an injured Zusi) Jaylin Lindsey was getting way up the field to maintain that width. Lindsey had plenty of speed to get back, but at times it seemed like he was too far out of position.
Croizet also struggled a bit in possession and was visibly dejected when he would lose the ball, instead of immediately turning back to go win it like Ilie or Espinoza would do. On twitter fans were somewhat critical of him and on The Cauldron Facebook page a fan indicated Croizet had DM’d him and we got an image of that DM. Croizet said, “Don’t worry Bro, my form will arrive.” He continued beyond that and the fan was very receptive. My advice to Croizet, STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA! There will always be negative talk and you can’t look at it.
Musa Better Worry
James Musa found himself on the bench on Wednesday and Vermes confirmed he was healthy. It has been widely assumed he is the backup at defensive midfielder to Ilie Sanchez. But often in the preseason he has found himself behind Swope Park Rangers midfielder Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal. Kuzain looked like he handled himself pretty well. The second team didn’t allow a goal and that youthful midfield of fellow SPR member Felipe Gutierrez and 15-year-old SKC signing Gianluca Busio looked pretty good.
Vermes often talks about how he dreams of a Starting XI made up of all SKC Academy players. I personally don’t see that happening, but there are lots of good kids coming up. Kuzain and Hernandez are “old” at the age of 19 compared to Busio (15) and Lindsey (17). It won’t surprise me to see the old guys getting Sporting KC contracts in the future.
Felipe Hernandez has a Great Shot
As mentioned above, Hernandez was part of that youthful midfield on the second team. In 2017 he played mostly attacking midfielder for The Rangers since Christian Duke was around to play the #8 role. With Duke gone to Orange County someone has to fill that box-to-box role. If Busio is loaned down to SPR, which many of us expect, he looks like he’d fill that #10 role and bump Hernandez over.
Felipe handled those duties just fine against a first team MLS squad. No reason he can’t do the same in USL. My only concern is in 2017 he was subbed off a ton so it’ll remain to be seen if he has the gas tank to go 90 minutes in that demanding role.
Lobato Can’t be a Starter, Can He?
Cristian Lobato got another start at Left Back on Wednesday after getting several starts on the wing in preseason. He seems to be another Vermes player that is a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. He’s played OK in preseason but I found him getting caught out of position at bit on the back line.
My assumption is Seth Sinovic is still the starter but he’s such a leader he’s playing with the second team to keep them organized. You can always here Seth screaming out directions and with that super young midfield, someone has to keep them in line. Espinoza handles a lot of the vocal leadership with the first team, so I’m guessing that’s the reason for the switch.
Some Predictions for Saturday
Sporting KC will play Phoenix Rising at 4 PM CT. No word on a stream yet, but I’ll be at the game for some level of coverage. I’m hoping to see something closer to the actual starting eleven. Vermes already confirmed Johnny Russell will likely play and I hope he’s with the starters on the left wing. I also hope Gerso is the starter on the right wing and Croizet drops back to the midfield. I’d like to see how he looks at the #10 and I’d like to see Gutierrez start at the #8 and let Roger move to the 2nd team. That’ll mean Sinovic can come back in with the starters and then the only likely starter that we may not see would be Zusi, if he’s still hurt.
Phoenix Rising have played two preseason games. A heartbreaking loss to the Red Bulls after their backups scored on the starters and they were up 2-1 before the Red Bull reserves came in and scored twice in stoppage time for a 3-2 win. Then, I missed the second PRFC game because I was at the SKC game, but they lost 2-0 to a Colorado team that Sporting ran over earlier in preseason. All that should mean that Sporting should be in a position to easily win this game. That said, I personally believe Phoenix Rising will be one of the best USL teams in 2018, so you never know. Soccer Math is pretty sketchy sometimes. I’m sure I’ll overreact more after Saturday.
In case you missed it, watch the full game from Wednesday below: