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Five Observations from Sporting KC versus the Columbus Crew

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Pulido, Shelton and Duke, oh my!

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Columbus Crew SC
Matt Besler putting Patrick Mullins in a head lock*
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, Sporting Kansas City fell 2-0 to the Columbus Crew SC by playing a lineup riddled with backups for the first 60 minutes before turning the game over to many of their stars. But the scoreline and the lineups aren’t all that’s worth a look. Here are a few things that stood out to me from Wednesday’s friendly.

Khiry Shelton Has Grown as a Player

Not taller (though he did look quite tall). Shelton appears to be better than the last time he was in Kansas City. Regular readers of The Blue Testament will know I’ve always been a little hard on Khiry Shelton. While it’s undeniable the results the team had when he was on the field in 2018, I always felt like he got too much credit for that success.

Well today, he could be turning me into a real fan. I’ve often criticized his touch and hold up play. Well today, those traits looked to have grown immensely. He came back to the ball and controlled it well. He had several quick interchange passes that were very slick with both Roger Espinoza and Alan Pulido. His passes had a nice weight to them as well. He even drove into the box and confidently shot (though it was saved).

He’s been with the “starters” at right wing in both of the last two games that I’ve seen. It seems it’s a chance to get him minutes on the wing since Pulido is surely taking most of those center forward minutes.

Pulido’s Positioning

Shortly after Pulido was signed in this blockbuster transfer to SKC, we talked to FMF State of Mind (the SB Nation Mexican Team site) who confirmed what we’ve heard a lot of since. Pulido isn’t a typical #9. He doesn’t just stand between the center backs and wait for the ball. He’s more of a 9.5. Half striker. Half attacking midfielder.

That was on full display today. At times Pulido came very deep to press players and stay involved in the play. At one point, Shelton even shifted to CF and Puldio slide to RW before they swapped back during a promising attack. It will be interesting to see all the ways Pulido can be used and I suspect we’ll get different looks based on different game situations.

Missing KC Players

For the second straight game Felipe Gutierrez and Tim Melia didn’t get onto the field. Additionally, Gerso Fernandes and Erik Hurtado were in street clothes on the sidelines. After the game I was able to speak with the team and confirm “absences today were a combination of knocks and a bug going around.”

It’s not unusual for players to pick up bumps and bruises and there is definitely no point in pushing it in preseason. Sporting KC will play on 32 consecutive weekends starting with the season opener on February 29th. Now is the time to get healthy.

Gadi Kinda Hustles

Don’t misread that headline as he “kinda hustles.” He was all over the field for the 30 minutes he was on. Maybe he knew he only had 30 minutes so he pushed it very hard. But he was doing tricky dribbles, step overs and other moves to make defenders miss. A few of his moves or passes were just slightly off, but the effort was definitely there. With more time, he’ll only have that much more chemistry with his teammates.

One thing he’ll have to learn is how to manage that energy. Towards the end of his exuberant 30 minute shift, he looked pretty tired. It could have simply been he wanted to give it everything for his limited chance on Wednesday but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Cameron Duke is Showing Early Promise

Cam Duke was signed as a Homegrown midfielder in 2019. As with other recent Homegrown signings (see: Freeman, Tyler), Duke was injured at the time. He didn’t go on to appear for Sporting KC or the Swope Park Rangers in 2019. But in preseason 2020, he’s been fired right out of a cannon. He played right back in the 4-0 win over FC Cincinnati and on Wednesday he played midfielder against the Columbus Crew.

In both games he showed incredible speed and agility. It’ll be interesting to see if the team uses him primarily at RB down with SKC II or if he spends more time in the midfield. He looked promising in both spots but it would seem the path to minutes at SKC II is at RB.

SKC are back in action this weekend against Real Salt Lake. Until then, stick to The Blue Testament for all the preseason and other KC soccer coverage you’ve come to expect.