As you’ve no doubt already seen, Sporting Kansas City put a thorough beating on Deportivo Toluca FC in the opening leg of the CONCACAF Champions League tilt. Here are a few random thoughts about the 3-0 Sporting KC victory.
There might not have been a player on the pitch among the starters that didn’t have a good game for SKC. But one player that stood out above everyone else, as is evident by your voting in our Man of the Match poll, was Gerso Fernandes (he has 51 percent of the vote, with no one else about 12 perfect, as of this writing).
First, the run where Matt Besler finds him to setup the first goal was wonderful. He blew past the defense and then when his touch/pass went astray, he tracked it down and got the ball to Nemeth for the goal. It was more of Krisztian Nemeth and Gerso getting together on the second when Gerso worked past his defender to get the ball to Nemeth who appeared to try to clip the ball in but it fell back to Gerso who blasted it home.
Another play, which won’t show up on the stat sheet, was the corner kick that led to the third goal. The ball came in and was partially cleared before Gerso gathered, burned his defender for what felt like the 100th time of the night, then his cross was only partially cleared twice before falling to Ilie Sanchez for that beautiful goal.
Gerso and Daniel Salloi should split time at left wing, but Gerso made a case for why he should start again Thursday.
How About that Defense
Besides a few shakey moments, including a Graham Zusi pass through the six-yard-box, the defense looked very sharp, especially considering it was the first competitive game of 2019. You only have to think back to the opener where SKC hosted New York City FC in 2018 to know how bad it can go. This is a different team. It appears they are greatly ahead of schedule for the year. And even ahead of where they ended 2018.
One reason, the calming presence of Andreu Fontas. He played very similar to his former and now current teammate Ilie. The former Barcelona teammates were synced up with their other defensive teammates even as they played out of a very tight high press. The mistakes they made will undoubtedly lead to goals in other games, but they didn’t in the opener.
Don’t Forget about Seth!
Every season Peter Vermes tried to replace Seth Sinovic, and every season he wins back his starting job. In 2019, he never lost it. He looked fantastic and surprisingly offensive in both this game and preseason. He spent as much, if not more time, up in the attack as fellow fullback Graham Zusi.
Bobby Warshaw thought SKC were in a 3-4-3, and that argument can be made. Where he thought just Zusi fell back as part of the back three, I saw it with both Sinovic and Zusi alternating who stayed back (though with no replay from Yahoo Sports, I can’t double check). In 2018 it was often Zusi who would get very far forward or drift into the midfield, but it looks like SKC are going to keep teams on their toes with who gets into the attack. Seth’s one shot was a bit off, but he scored in preseason and I expect each fullback to find the net at some point. Imagine a healthy Jimmy Medranda in that role later in the year. After all, Vermes is going to try to replace Seth again (who is just on a one year contract).
Jimmy Mack already dedicated a whole story to this, but I can’t stop from wanting to chime in as well. Nemeth got a nice goal and possibly could have had a couple more. He admitted he was surprised when the first attempt fell to him and he missed near post later in the game. Imagine if he had a hat trick in his 2019 debut.
This doesn’t answer the question of if he’ll keep up this pace in 2019, but it’s a promising start. I will both pat my back and scold myself for my Nemeth takes in 2018. In March of 2018 I argued SKC should trade for him. Then when they finally did, I, like many of you, wondered if it was a mistake based on his form.
Let’s hope it was all because of that sports hernia injury that he had surgery for and now he’ll be a whole new man. He sure looked like it on Thursday.
Where was the Yohan?
When SKC released their lineups for Thursday’s game, one name was suspiciously missing from the team sheet. Yohan Croizet. He was a Designated Player in 2018 (though I suspect he won’t be in 2019) and he got on the field 32 out of 34 times (19 starts) in league play for 1,594 minutes. He was disappointing at times but he greatly improved down the stretch last season. It seemed like he may finally be figuring things out.
It appears he was supplanted on the bench by 16-year-old Gianluca Busio. Busio definitely has the brighter future but I have to admit I was surprised to not even see Yohan on the bench. Ultimately it didn’t matter as Salloi is the first winger off the bench and Rowe is the first midfielder, so Croizet wouldn’t have gotten in anyways. Still, it’ll be a story worth watching as the season unfolds.
Summer Signings are the New Offseason Signings
Social media has been full of fans complaining about the subtle offseason SKC had. Out are starters Ike Opara, Khiry Shelton and super sub Diego Rubio. In are a handful of players who didn’t start: Kelyn Rowe, Rodney Wallace, Botond Barath and Erik Hurtado among others. None of the new signings made an impact, but their two big moves from the summer played very well. Nemeth and Fontas joined as high-priced summer additions. We’ve already dedicated a lot of space to them, but could this be a new trend for PV? A certain Scottish striker can be had on a free transfer this summer.
It was starting to look like Vermes wouldn’t use his subs on Thursday, as he has been known to do in the past. The first sub didn’t come until Rowe replaced Roger Espinoza in the 78th minute. Then Hurtado got on in the 82nd minute for Nemeth and Salloi for Gerso in the 87th minute. To be fair to Vermes, no one looked tired out there and the subs, for once, may not have been needed. After the game PV indicated he wanted to get Rowe and Hurtado on to get them minutes with the first team to help them integrate further.
None of the subs had an impact, but with a game at incredible elevation on Thursday, we’ll see a lot more of the depth for Sporting KC show up the following Sunday against Los Angeles Football Club.