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Seven Thoughts on Sporting’s Loss to Monterrey

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Some thoughts on the end to Sporting’s Champions League run.

MLS: Champions League-Monterrey at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City crashed out of the CONCACAF Champions League on Thursday night, falling 5-2 to CF Monterrey on the night and 10-2 on aggregate. With the game a day behind us, here are seven thoughts about the game last night at Children’s Mercy Park.

That was a little embarrassing

That wasn’t losing 5-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes at home embarrassing, but that was still a little embarrassing for Kansas City last night. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead, a 2-1 lead, and a chance to go up 3-2 in the first half, KC allowed four unanswered goals, three in the second half to fall 5-2 to the Liga MX side. Combine that with the 5-0 loss in Mexico and KC fell 10-2 on aggregate.

Those 10 goals are the second most allowed in an aggregate series in the Champions League dating back to 2002 (then the CONCACAF Champions Cup), the first year that MLS teams competed in the tournament and it had an aggregate series. The only team to allow more goals in a single aggregate series was Marathon, who allowed 11 to Santos Laguna in the round of 16 of this year’s tournament. So Sporting is in rarified air in regards to their performance over the two legs of the tournament.

At times the team on the field looked nothing like the Kansas City teams we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on the field over the last nearly 10 years under Peter Vermes. Whether it was cheap giveaways in the first leg or defensive shape in both legs. The team just didn’t look like the one we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on the field. And plenty of credit goes to Monterrey for that. Speaking of Monterrey...

Monterrey is quite good

I don’t think I’m speaking out of line when I say that Monterrey was probably the best team I’ve ever seen take the field at Children’s Mercy Park. With internationals from Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, and Colombia; Monterrey is a stacked team with talent at every position.

I mean after Monterrey went on top for good in the 61st minute; they proceeded to bring on former Colombian international, Dorlan Pabon. In the first leg, up 5-0 they were able to bring on Argentine international, Maximiliano Meza (they did that again last night up 3-2). They have so much talent, and it showed.

For most of the game, Monterrey seemed content to strike on their effective counter attack, but in the second half, they turned on the high press, which led to their fourth goal as Kansas City couldn’t clear their own end.

It was amazing to watch a team like Kansas City who can usually play themselves out of trouble in the back be harassed into mistakes in the back (Monterrey did it effectively in the first leg as well). And Monterrey did it as simply as turning on a switch, it was a thing of beauty to watch. So while it was embarrassing for Kansas City, it wasn’t just on them and their play in the game, Monterrey is, simply put, a much better team than Sporting is.

Someone might be sitting for a few games

After the game last night, in his post-game press conference, Peter Vermes spoke about his lineup selection for the game saying “When I look at the guys who I put out there today, they had an opportunity. I believe some of them fell short.”

Not the type of thing a player wants to hear their coach say to the press after a game. It’s a quote that brought back memories of last year’s crash out of the US Open Cup in Houston when Vermes called out the play on the field of some of his players in that 4-2 loss to the Houston Dynamo. That game ended up being the last game for Emiliano Amor for the club before he headed back to Argentina. It was also the last game that Graham Smith has played for Sporting’s first team as he’s spent his time since that game with the Swope Park Rangers.

Does this mean that we could see a similar benching come for someone in last night’s game? I doubt it would go to the extremes of a player being released/waived like Amor was, or if you want to go back further, the waiving of Mechack Jerome and Josh Gardner after KC crashed out of the 2014 CONCACAF Champions League to Cruz Azul.

That said it wouldn’t surprise me if a couple players are “sent a message” and lose their place for a few games. Obviously the question is who “fell short” as Vermes put it, and certainly fingers can be pointed at the defense. All four members of the back line had a rough time at different points last night. Matt Besler didn’t seem as composed as he usually is, and Andreu Fontas struggled with Monterrey’s pace and was subbed out before the hour mark for Botond Barath. Barath while being more physical than Fontas, also had some struggles in the back. As for Graham Zusi and Seth Sinovic...

Outside backs were exposed

Sinovic and Zusi have had exceptional careers for Kansas City, but when we go back and look over their time in Kansas City, this series is not one that either player will want remembered. The pace of Monterrey’s front line and attacks down the wing left both players exposed.

In the first leg in Monterrey, they overloaded Sinovic’s side and exposed his lack of pace on two of their goals. In the return leg last night, Monterrey again found a lot of success working down KC’s wings and beating Sporting’s wingbacks with speed. On the first goal, Sinovic seemed to wait too long to leave his man to close down Rogelio Funes Mori as he raced into the box. At the same time, Sinovic had little chance to make the “correct” decision there as if he’d have closed down Mori earlier, he would have squared the ball to the man Sinovic had been tracking, Aviles Hurtado.

Zusi didn’t fare much better on Monterrey’s second goal, making a poor slide tackle to try to win the ball off Jesus Gallardo before he crossed for Rodolfo Pizarro to finish. As I mentioned earlier, KC won’t face an opponent this good in the MLS season, but it was disheartening to see both players get beaten as often and as regularly as they did throughout the series.

Melia had a rough night

Tim Melia likely won’t be thrilled with his performance last night. While you could argue he wasn’t to blame on any of the goals, he still didn’t make a single save last night. Monterrey had five shots on target and scored all five of them. The one he’d probably want back the most is the second goal where he got beat to the near post, but even that had fault further up the field before it was even crossed into the box. While he certainly can’t be to blame on the other goals, giving up 10 goals over two games isn’t a good day at the office for any goalkeeper.

Fernandes has had a strong start to the season, especially in the CCL.

If there’s one player sad to see Kansas City exit the Champions League more than anyone, it’s probably Gerso Fernandes. Fernandes scored both of Kansas City’s goals in the 5-2 loss to Monterrey, giving him four for the tournament, tying him with Krisztian Nemeth for the most for KC in the tournament as well as the most for any MLS player in this year’s tournament.

Fernandes also had three assists in the tournament to go along with his four goals, meaning that he was involved in seven of KC’s eleven goals that were scored in this year’s tournament. After a rough 2017 where he bounced in and out of the starting lineup with the emergence of Daniel Salloi, Fernandes has returned to form in early 2019 for Kansas City.

He struggled in the first leg down in Mexico, but popped in the right places on Thursday night putting away the two shots on goal he had. All four of his goals in the tournament came against Liga MX opposition. It led me to a half joking thought on Twitter as to whether Fernandes may attract some interest from clubs in Liga MX after his performance against Toluca and Monterrey. Stranger things have happened.

Playing the starters was the right decision

My TBT colleague, Chad Smith posted earlier this week about how KC should have rotated their lineup for the game against Monterrey and turn their focus to MLS play. I personally expected the starters to play, and I personally wanted them to play in the game. After the fact I still stand by that opinion, playing the starters was absolutely the right idea for Vermes. Sunday against FC Cincinnati my thought was that Vermes had rested the team ahead of the game against Monterrey and then another strong lineup with a few changes for the game against the New York Red Bulls this weekend.

Even with the series pretty much decided, KC’s best option to put their best foot forward was to play their first team in the game against Monterrey. The reason for that is in the fact that the team has for years stated that their goal has been to compete and win the Champions League. Even with the series decided it was best for not just the club, but for the players to get out onto the field and compete with possibly the best team in the region.

While focusing on the weekend’s game would have been easy for KC today, I appreciate that Vermes, in his stubbornness, refused to fully give in and he put out his best team. And not just that he again tried to come out and play his game against the Mexican side. His stubbornness is arguably one of the biggest factors that have led to Kansas City’s success with Vermes in charge. He’s built the team his way, to play his way, and dammit, they’re going to play that way come hell or high water.

At the same time, let’s not forget that the MLS season is long, even with it being more condensed this year it still runs to October. For the past three years, the Seattle Sounders have been horrible at times over the first couple months of the season and have still made the playoffs all three times, made MLS Cup twice, and won it once in that stretch. KC is still one of the strongest teams in the West, and it will show as the season continues and Sporting will be fine in the Western Conference. There is still a long season ahead and one game in April isn’t going to make or break KC’s season (I await people coming back to this post in October when KC miss the first seed by a point).