When we can we like to trade questions with our counterparts around SBNation. With Sporting Kansas City and Los Angeles Football Club read to kick of the season on Sunday it was a good time to swap some intel. Alicia Rodriguez has been around from the Chivas USA days and is the go-to knowledge for all things LAFC and is also the manager of Angels on Parade as well as a contributor to MLS Soccer. She posted our responses to her questions yesterday and you can see if anyone commented here.
Here are my questions and Alicia’s answers:
TB: LAFC had a great first season. Atlanta was all the rage their first season in MLS with 55 points and a 4th place debut but LAFC quietly put up 57 points and a 3rd place finish in their inaugural season. Any angst with being over looked a little bit? Does that maybe give a little chip on the shoulder for motivation?
Alicia: No angst at all, in fact I assumed the rest of MLS was already sick of LAFC being held up as the hot new thing. The strides made in year one, on and off the field, were truly impressive, regardless if you’re a fan, rival fan, or neutral. But they fell short of their goal of winning a title. That makes me think the motivation remains high to accomplish that in year two, and we’ll see if they’re up for it.
TB: Despite the excellent first season for LAFC, Sporting Kansas City took the win in both meetings. Any idea why SKC matched up well with Bradley’s squad or was it a fluke?
Alicia: LAFC had some very obvious flaws and I think Sporting did well to capitalize last season. The first match was pretty comprehensively Sporting’s, although it came in the midst of LAFC’s attempt at the U.S. Open Cup and they lacked a bit of focus in that one. The second game was weird, to be honest, with Sinovic’s red card and Sporting scoring the shorthanded goal. So I think it was a combination of Kansas City being ruthless in their chances and some weird events, especially in the second game. All that said, I think this game is going to be one of the toughest on the schedule, and it’s on the first day of the season. Guess they can knock it out, but I think it’s a big test on both sides.
TB: What is the scoop on Vela? Is he hurt or fit and how different is LAFC without him? If he does play how can SKC make sure he doesn’t hurt them?
Alicia: Vela has a contusion on his right knee suffered in the final preseason game. He had it examined and it’s nothing worse, thank goodness, and I expect he’ll play on Sunday. The thing is, Vela is a player who can beat you even with good effort. In that last preseason game, he even scored with his right foot, and he’s someone who is heavily left-footed (and scores a lot of great goals with his favored foot). Probably the way to really stop him is to get cynical and foul him, even if LAFC can create goals from free kicks. But please, don’t hurt him.
TB: Bonus round: There are a lot of fans from other cities that still see SKC as a smash-mouth, in-your-face, high-press team. From an outsiders perspective, how do you see SKC and what, if anything, scares you about the squad that Vermes built?
Alicia: Sporting are definitely intense, they can get very physical (sometimes way too physical) and they are assured of their identity, which is a unique one in MLS. If I’m being honest, I previously thought a lot of the talking points around the team were maybe a bit too arrogant and found the intense approach to be kind of obnoxious, but I’ve settled into respecting Peter Vermes and the club. They have a consistent record, they have a good cadre of players on the roster who have been strong, and now they’re bringing through some very interesting youngsters. I even think their playing style has become somewhat more pleasant to watch over time. Are there times when I want to roll my eyes? Sure, occasionally. But I’ve definitely come around in my thinking on the club and there is indeed a lot to like about Sporting KC.
Changing sides, these are Alicia’s question and my answers:
Alicia: Sporting are off to a good start in Concacaf Champions League and look fully ready for the season. Was the opening game/series against Toluca a bit of good luck against a weaker opponent or is Sporting all systems go to start the season?
TB: I want to jump on the Sporting KC is better than all of Liga MX bandwagon (not that I know anyone saying that yet) but truthfully it is a combination of things. Toluca is in a terrible bad run of form right now. Disorganized, demoralized and dejected with no leadership and a fan base that has turned on them. Sporting KC caught them at the best time possible considering it is their first competitive games of the year. With that being said, SKC is doing a lot right. A short off-season meant not a lot of fitness lost, a roster built over multiple years to be deep for this season, a plan and identity in place and players that buy into that plan and identity.
So I am going to waffle a bit and say it is a bit of both but it is good to hang a 5-0 aggregate on a Liga MX team.
Alicia: Ike Opara is a really good defender who Sporting traded away in the offseason. Who is replacing him this year?
TB: Andreu Fontas was signed in the summer window last year and only made one start and one sub appearance with Opara and Besler having such a good partnership. He was picked up to help the team in CCL this year and will be a big part of the team in all games in 2019. Fontas was a team mate of Ilie Sanchez at Barcelona B, helping them get promoted to the second division. He also made over 100 appearances with Celta in La Liga so he has the experience to play well for SKC. With Vermes changing SKC to a more possession team his ability on the ball and relationship with Ilie has already paid off. It will be interesting how SKC does with him and Besler at CB though. Both of them are lefties and better passers than Opara was, but neither of them have the same recovery speed of Opara and could get burned on some counters.
Alicia: What makes you nervous about SKC coming into the season?
TB: I am not as worried about the nine spot as I was before but Nemeth is still a question. Can he score and combine the way SKC wants for a full season? So far he is off to a great start in CCL and preseason. The previously mentioned loss of Opara is a concern but probably the biggest worry would be a backup for Ilie. SKC has a ton of depth at almost every spot. With as good as Ilie is for SKC there is no replacement near his level at the moment. Kuzain is young and is the closest to his style and ability but it would be a big drop. Other than injuries to a player or two it is just the congestion and focus it takes to compete in so many different directions at once that can lead to bad form.
Alicia: (Bonus) Prediction for Sunday’s match?
TB: I hate predictions.... Right now it is hard to tell if Vermes will use a lot of the same guys from the CCL games or go with his depth. With the best lineup I feel good about getting a result. LAFC is good and will be a challenge. They will be more dangerous than Toluca was so it will be hard to maintain a clean sheet. I am going to go with a 2-2 result.