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The Winston Reid way: The way for Sporting Kansas City?

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A two-match analysis (with a Khiry Shelton interlude).

Chicago Fire FC v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Disclaimer: The following does not imply that any of the other Sporting Kansas City center backs do not do many of the things the 32-year-old veteran of 166 EPL matches and New Zealand International (including three starts in the 2010 World Cup) Winston Reid does.

Since Winston Reid began getting regular time – 225 minutes in the last three matches – for Sporting Kansas City at left center back, Sporting has only allowed one goal. All of those minutes have seen Reid partnered with Croatian Roberto Puncec at right center back. Indeed, Puncec has done a lot of dirty work as opposing teams often target the space behind attacking right back Graham Zusi. But Reid has made everyone’s job easier on the back line, and, arguably, brought the best out of holding midfielder Ilie Sanchez. Why? Perhaps my observations will shed some light or at least throw shadows towards some thought.

Foundational traits

Those feet… When focusing in on Reid, one notices that his feet are always active; he is never flat-footed. His body position off the ball is more often than not in a side-on position, which enables him to see the line he and his backline are making, to see the ball, and to see any coming runners or attackers (those with the ball). Timely peaks behind him or to the periphery keep his actions in the moment. Reid’s active feet are a reflection of his mind.

His stride reflects his 6’3” frame: long strides that eat up ground quickly, above-average speed for nearly 200lbs.

His acts lie in the discretionary plane in that he does not try to do too much; he allows his teammates to do their job while he does his.

He ain’t married

[Ladies, I do not know if Winston Reid is married or not,] but he is not married to the offside trap. He does not step up at every opportunity. No living or dying by the trap for Winston. Instead, Reid uses the line as a tool in his arsenal to accentuate other interventions.

Yes, Reid is always encouraging his back line to step up together and reduce the playing area for the opposing attackers. That tightness alone helps with overall team defensive pressure.

Yet, he is also cognizant of when (and where) to step up and when to drop back and give depth or provide cover for his partners. Every subtle or blatant act Reid does while working the “offside line” is purposeful. When the ball is being carried towards his backline, he may step up to the most dangerous man. He may drop with a runner beyond the line when wise (usually when the leg of the attacker goes back). He may shift side-to-side to cut off good passing angles to that runner. Or he may usher the coming attacker to a poor angle. Reid’s line is a smart, dynamic line.

These interventions are exhibited in the 52nd and 56th minutes of the 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire last Wednesday. In the 52nd, Reid sees the runner between him and Puncec, thus, he keeps the line as the runner goes for the space behind. However, Reid moves laterally to cut off the passing angle for attacker Fabian Herbers. He intercepts Herbers’ pass, having symbiotically used his teammates’ coming pressure on the ball. Seconds later, Reid wins again as Djordje Mihailovic attacks the top of Kansas City’s box.

In the 56th, Reid holds the line as Ignacio Aliseda attacks and as Robert Beric runs between Reid and Puncec. As he sees the ball about to go to Beric, Reid’s anticipation enables him to nick the pass and get Sporting going the other way.

Overall, Reid – who also has an incredible knack for knowing where the ball is going to go – is a proactive defender (nine interceptions to Puncec’s two in the two matches). He keeps a tight, high line, but he is not reactive with it or dependent on it.

No living and dying by the offside trap for him. Like Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption, Reid would rather “Get busy living” instead of “[or] get busy dying.”

The Interlude… A problem?

Khiry Shelton is not a problem. He does positively impactful things on the pitch. However…

In the 16th minute versus Chicago, Shelton receives from Gianluca Busio on the left wing. He runs inside at the Fire back Boris Sekulic, drawing two other defenders. He turns Sekulic around simply by angling in at pace. Then, Shelton goes left. From there, Shelton’s heavy touch lets him down.

Here is the problem: I am afraid that Shelton thinks his own error was his poor touch, when it was actually his failure to shoot when Sekulic had his back to him. He had already beat Sekulic. He had room to fire a shot. Instead, Shelton needlessly beats Sekulic again – to a poorer shooting angle – and the attack comes to nothing but a goal kick.

[Sidebar hot take: Shelton is one of the (if not the top) athlete on the Sporting roster, but is one of the (if not the) weakest overall soccer players in the top 15. Discuss.]

Peter Vermes: Reid is “a beast”

See Reid’s bossing of Houston’s Darwin Quintero in the 52nd and 76th minute of the match against Houston Saturday, October 3. Reid just says, “No!” And Quintero just wants to take the ball and go home.

Yep, Reid is one bad… man, mother.

And it was a return pass for Quintero that Reid intercepts after applying the initial pressure in the 73rd minute. Reid wins the ball and finds Busio, thus initiating the attack that leads to Alan Pulido’s match-winning goal in the 2-1 win.

An Ever-Present-Leader

By default, a center back on any team is a leader, either by example or by words. Or both.

With Winston Reid, this is first: In his intentional demeanor, in his insistent attention to detail, it is very evident that Reid cares.

He is constantly orchestrating. Yes, sometimes his frustration with his teammates is evident. But Reid also takes responsibility. In the 7th minute against Chicago, Reid misplays the ball just inside his own half and allows Beric to win the ball. Immediately, Reid harasses Beric every which legal way and makes sure Beric gains little forward progress, enabling teammate Amadou Dia to recover and knock the ball away.

And Reid leads on the attacking end too. Though many look at his match-winning goal against Chicago much as a height mismatch, the play was about so much more. Reid has to contort his body (actually lowering himself to the ball) and lean in on his mark to reach Johnny Russell’s corner. Reid wanted that ball.

Reid does and is what one would expect an EPL experienced center back to do and be: he guides, he calms, he plays both short and long accurate one-touch passes, he is proactive, he is athletic, and he is sure of himself. He also provides the security others need - especially Ilie - to be their best selves.

Is Winston Reid at left center back the way Sporting Kansas City needs to go for the foreseeable future? For next season as well? Look around the roster. Is there another center back as complete?