When Sporting Kansas City stepped on the field in the first leg against Monterrey, they knew it would be a tough challenge. While Liga MX teams do not have a salary cap, not all of them spend as lavishly as Monterey does. A conservative estimate is that Monterrey’s roster is at least four times the cost compared to Sporting KC.
Sporting KC is a deep team, with talent across the board but—at least in their first meeting—the Liga MX giant ran over the MLS side. Sporting Kansas City started well, moving the ball, working towards a threatening position, but then a quick turnover, a goal, and the beginning of the end.
Each year Sporting KC gets a little better at possession: moving the ball around the field to push the other team into a mistake and then trying to quickly punish it. They have gotten better at it, but Monterrey didn’t care about possession. They cared about punishing every little mistake.
“Credit to Monterrey, they played well and they took advantage of the situations,” manager Peter Vermes told the media after returning to Kansas City. “I think one of the differences that we face when we play Mexican teams that we don’t face in our own league as much is when you make mistakes, we don’t capitalize on them in our league. In their league, they have a little more quality to capitalize on those things and we got punished for it. Hopefully that part of the lesson we learn going forward.”
Sporting KC had nearly 60% possession with more passes and a higher pass percentage than Monterrey. The home side waited for passes to be a little slow, a little off and they attacked. SKC had the passing and possession stats. Monterrey had the shooting. With 16 shots to 4, 10 on target to SKC’s lonely ball on frame, Monterrey were the far more dangerous team that night.
“Obviously for us, we got our teeth kicked in,” SKC midfielder Kellyn Rowe told The Blue Testament. “Not something you see regularly at this club and it won’t be happening again. I think we know that as a team, as a staff and as a whole club a performance like that will never happen again.”
Should SKC have changed their style?
After the 5-0 loss, everyone had an opinion. Perhaps it is because Sporting KC is the last MLS team in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League but it seemed everyone across media and social media had to weigh in. Reading through all the hot takes, SKC was everything from stupid to naïve in their game plan. One national media member even gave the amazingly sage advice of “Be better, MLS.”
Some people were more specific than “Be better.” They wanted SKC to go to Mexico and be cynical and play for a draw. Bunker, park the bus, play really compact, everyone behind the ball or some version of that was what so many thought SKC should have done.
The truth is, while Sporting KC could do that, it is just not in their DNA at this point.
“It’s just not us,” Rowe explained. “We aren’t a team that is going to go play long ball, sit back and park the bus. It’s just not how we play; it’s not how we work. Can we do it? Of course. We are soccer players, we can adjust. But it’s not the way the club is, it’s not the way the players want to play. It’s not who we are. We are always going be ourselves. You live and die by the sword kind of thing and we want to do it.”
Rowe continued, “I think our team is very good at what we do. We keep the ball, we spread teams out. We made mistakes that game that we normally don’t make. We lost the ball in dangerous areas where we were spread out because we want to break this team down, they caught us on the counter, and they were numbers up and if they weren’t numbers up, they found little gaps that we didn’t cover. We made mistakes that are not like us at all on every aspect of the game, so we watched film, we looked at ourselves and realize it is on the players to make it better. We’ve talked as a team; we’ve talked as a club that this will never happen again.”
Rowe was echoing what Vermes wants from his club. They do not want what they do to be a surprise, but they want to be able to do it so well that no other team can stop them. Don’t expect Vermes to look back and want to change his plans. Do expect him to be putting plans in place to be even better next time.
“Hindsight is always 20/20 but I can tell you this, I wouldn’t change the way we go in there,” Vermes plainly stated. “People may not like to hear that. I really don’t care.”
Vermes continued, “Coaches all play a certain way. I believe in our team. I think our team is a good team. If you are going to be great, you have to be consistent at what you do. We found a day that we did not play at the level which we can. I am not sure, and I mean this, I am not sure that if we play at the level that we can that we win the game. I don’t know that. What I do know is that I know how we play the best and we are going to go try and do that wherever we go. I can tell you; I’m not giving away a secret, we are going to go into Cincinnati this weekend and we are going to go play. That is what we do. If people don’t like that, I understand that but until I’m not the coach that is the way I am going to do things.”