Sporting Kansas City continued their preseason success with a 4-0 win over FC Cincinnati on Saturday. The team is back in Kansas City for a week for things like unveiling the new jersey (which has already leaked) and just to get a break before the second leg of preseason. With a day to reflect, we look back at some things that stood out for Sporting against Cincy.
No, Alan Pulido didn’t play against FC Cincinnati on Saturday. That didn’t stop the mania. There was a decent gathering of fans at this ‘closed’ friendly. Many of them appeared to just be there for their kids as there were several fields in use. But immediately after the Sporting KC game ended a hoard of fans descended on Pulido for photos. And he stopped and took pictures with every one of them. More attention to Sporting KC is certainly a good thing.
Whoa! Wilson Harris
On Twitter I was asked who the standout player of the game was and, while many players looked quite good, I decided it was Wilson Harris. The second lineup was littered with backups (besides Johnny Russell and Gerso Fernandes) and SKC II players (Harris, Camden Riley, John Pulskamp). For that reason, I had low expectations. But instead, they shined pretty bright.
Harris got his first goal when Graham Smith stepped up and forced a turnover. He put a ball through and Harris drifted to the right before burying the shot back across the net. It was a good goal, but it didn’t hold a candle to what he did next.
Late in the game, Riley stepped up and intercepted a pass and hit a hard and high pass straight to Harris. He was able to climb through the air and get a deft flick header to Russell. Russell was all alone with the keeper and did a quick move sending the keeper to the ground before he chipped in the team’s fourth goal of the game. Expectations should be high for Harris in the USL Championship this year.
First Look at Kinda
We’ve seen very little of new midfield signing Gadi Kinda. There was the video of him arriving in Arizona. Another of him doing some training with the team. But it was Saturday when he finally took the field. He lined up where Felipe Gutierrez would typically be, in the left #8 role, though he switched with Espinoza at times.
In 45 minutes he acquitted himself well. He was quick, he had a nice touch and he interchanged well with the players around him. At one point there was a high ball soaring through the air that he tried and audacious volley that ultimately went over the bar. Despite the miss, the creativity was fun to watch.
He had another chance where the ball pinged around between himself, Ilie Sanchez and Roger Espinoza. Ultimately Roger centered a ball but Kinda’s shot was again over the bar. Overall, it felt like a good start for a guy who just joined the team.
In the struggle that was 2019 a lot was made of the leaky sieve of a defense or the lack of offense. Those are no doubt issues that Sporting KC has looked to address in the offseason, but there may be something else that is a bigger factor. How dominant the midfield can be. The team missed Roger Espinoza when he was out for his injury for much of the year. Also, much has been made of Ilie looking slower last year.
Well none of those issues were present against Cincy. Kinda, Ilie and Espinoza absolutely controlled the midfield in the first half and Busio, Freeman and Riley did pretty good in the second half too. Three of the four goals came on turnovers that came in the midfield (Smith stepped into the midfield for his interception that led to goal three). The team had several more interceptions from all the midfielders (and Khiry Shelton), even if they didn’t lead to goals, they led to chances. If SKC can show more of that in the season, it’ll be a great help to both the defense who will face less attacks and the offense who could have some odd-man rushes.
Puncec Looks Quick
Speaking of a struggling defense, a big part of that appeared to be a lack of pace from the defense in 2019. Cincinnati didn’t put a lot of pressure on the D but there was a chance late in the first half when a through ball was sent to striker Brandon Vazquez who had ghosted behind Matt Besler. Despite Vazquez’s pace, Roberto Puncec (or “Robbie” as Besler called him on the field as they communicated) ran Vazquez down and forced him wide before Richard Sanchez ultimately made a diving save.
In my way too early depth chart predictions I had Puncec slotted in at the starting right center back spot. Two preseason games in and that’s where he’s been both games. We all know preseason doesn’t matter too much, but I’m penciling him in as the starter for now next to Besler.