Sporting Kansas City has a huge test in Atlanta on Wednesday after picking up three points over Colorado on Saturday. This will be just the 2nd match SKC has ever played against Atlanta United FC so I got with Haris Kruskic from over at Dirty South Soccer to get some info about the league’s top team.
Here are Three Questions But Really Six:
We ask them...
Cody Bradley: 23 goals scored and just 10 allowed. How would YOU stop Atlanta United?
Haris Kruskic: Sit back and defend for your lives. No team other than NYCFC has shown that they can go head-to-head with Atlanta’s attack since they switched to a 3-5-2. The teams that gives us the toughest time are those that essentially park the bus for most of the game.
Montreal did very well with that two matches ago and kept us scoreless for 70 minutes until a penalty conversion made it 1-1. After that, Montreal tried to go for the win rather than attempt to keep the point, they opened up while trying to score on us, and this led to their eventual downfall with Atlanta’s attack taking complete advantage and scoring another three goals to seal the win.
Historically, Atlanta has always struggled to break these kind of teams down. I’m curious to see if SKC attempts to duke it out with Atlanta on the attack or if they prefer to not concede.
CB: Who is someone in the lineup that we might not be aware of, but we should be?
HK: Even though he hasn’t started recently while dealing with a hamstring injury, Tito Villalba is a very pacy forward that adds another element to Atlanta’s already lethal attack. Although he’s a Designated Player, I feel like Villalba’s still largely overlooked and seen as “the other guy” when compared alongside Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, and Josef Martinez. However, if he does start on Wednesday, I think his ruthless combination of speed and precise runs off the ball could make it a long night for SKC’s backline.
CB: What happened to our old friend Jacob Peterson? Was he not The Answer? Also, Kevin Ellis scored vs Atlanta on Saturday night. I don’t have a question there I just wanted to say ‘HA’.
HK: Was Jacob Peterson ever actually referred to as “The Answer” in KC? That would be...something. Anyways, my guess as to why he was cut is that once Atlanta had it in mind to sign Barco, there was already so much younger wing depth for the club with him, Villalba, Julian Gressel, and Brandon Vazquez that it just didn’t make sense to keep Peterson around and pay him $165,000 to almost never play.
And yeah, but you guys let Chris Wondolowski and a man named(checks phone) Teal Bunbury to score on y’all. I think we’re even.
They ask us...
HK: This season, Sporting K.C. doesn’t appear to be the same defensive-minded team we’ve come to know over the past few years, as they’ve opted for a more attacking approach. What’s been the biggest difference in Peter Vermes’ philosophy?
CB: I don’t think Peter has really changed anything in his philosophy. To be honest, some fans in KC will laugh at the suggestion he has changed (that is the one dig you often hear about Vermes, although I disagree) This is still very much a defensive minded team and any team coached by him always will be. They’ve got four shutouts in the last six matches and allowed fewer goals than all but three Western Conference teams. The difference is that this year, they can actually score. There is simply more talent and attacking prowess going forward. It was a very busy off-season for SKC and they are much more versatile than in years past. This has allowed the attack to be more free flowing. Another aspect is that his outside backs are converted midfielders/forwards so they very much enjoy a chance on goal.
Over the last several years this team has slightly evolved. They were for a long time a relentless, fast paced, high press where they sent it up to Dom to do something crazy. But it progressed into a more controlled approach. They want to dominate possession, dictate the pace of play and eventually work out an opening. Dwyer was no longer as good of a fit for this style and that is why PV was happy to get all that money in return. But the bottom line for every player on a Vermes field is that they better do every single ounce of defensive work, all the way up to the striker, or they simply won’t play.
HK: If you had to pick one thing, what’s SKC’s biggest weakness?
CB: Well this was actually not that easy to pick. This is a bit of a weird team. They have the 2nd most goals scored in the league but Khiry Shelton, the striker, does not have a single one of those. So the striker can’t score. That seems like a weakness. They scored 6 goals just a couple matches ago and it might not matter, but if the trend from the last two matches continues then it could be a problem. When Khiry the Creator is making goals for others then it just looks like that is how this team works, but it’s started to get frustrating after some of his missed chances the last two matches where the team has only scored one goal.
However I am going to answer this with creativity. This is explained more in the next answer but Sporting KC is missing the maestro, Felipe Gutierrez. This team looked almost unstoppable going forward with him at the helm. While they can still score without him, they are clearly lacking that special moment of brilliance and creativity we saw from him.
HK: Felipe Gutierrez is out 2-3 months with an injury. How big of a blow is that for SKC and how do you think they compensate for his absence?
CB: Although the team had been playing without him - and winning - for several games before the news broke, it is obviously a huge blow. He is still tied for the team lead in goals scored at this point and Peter Vermes hasn’t figured out who the backup Attacking Midfielder is yet.
Yohan Croizet was set to be the #10, as his jersey suggests, before Felipe became available. He has been a pretty big disappointment so far. He had one very good match but has been poor outside of that. Jimmy Medranda was given the start on Saturday and the jury is still out there as well. I think we might see a mix between the two of them going forward. But Sporting KC clearly lacks that same dangerous bite without Gutierrez on the field. He was the key to finally unlocking a defense after moving the ball around and waiting for the right moment. There is still plenty of goals to be scored by the guys out there, but I’m crossing off days on my calendar until he comes back.
Lineup: Melia, Sinovic, Opara, Besler, Zusi, Ilie, Espinoza, Medranda, Salloi, Shelton, Russell
Score: 3-2 Sporting KC. Because every time it feels like this team is set up to lose, they do something crazy.