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Five Observations from Sporting KC’s Win in Vancouver

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Pulido, Kinda, Russell, xG, refereeing and more.

Sporting Kansas City v Vancouver Whitecaps FC Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

On Saturday, Sporting Kansas City got their season off to a hot start winning on the road against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Caps are a team they’ve been strong against, but Sporting aren’t a great road team. To get that monkey off their back early after a string of so-so preseason results is a great way to start the season. By comparison, Sporting KC didn’t win on the road in 2019 until June 23rd against the Columbus Crew SC. They bested that by nearly four months.

Here are some other takeaways from the weekend.

New Guys Contributing Early

As you undoubtedly noticed, the new signings for Sporting KC come out hot. Alan Pulido scored the first goal of the season. He was assisted by new center back Roberto Puncec. Then on the second goal, Gadi Kinda (who looked amazing) scored a wonder strike that’s up for Goal of the Week (GO VOTE). Kinda was also assisted by Luis Martins, who is arguably a new addition since he came in late in 2019. That’s three new players all adding to the tally and a fourth, not quite as new player, assisting as well. That’s what you want to see out of your new additions.

We can only assume when Amadou Dia and Winston Reid debut they’ll assist or get goals of their own.

Johnny Looks Lost on the Left Wing

For all the good that came out of Saturday, one thing that didn’t look great was Designated Player Johnny Russell on the left wing. As he promised in preseason, he had to fight his way back into the starting lineup and he did. However, he was relegated to playing on the left while Khiry Shelton played on the right.

This could be for a few reasons. Shelton doesn’t add as much going forward on the right, but he’s defensive help for Graham Zusi on that side and Ali Adnan is a great attacking left back so he was lined up against him to neutralize him.

However, instead of Russell’s trademark attacking style where he weaves through multiple defenders, he often looked a bit lost or pulled up and looked for a pass. He simply didn’t seem comfortable. One might have assumed him and Shelton would flip wings periodically throughout the game but that didn’t seem to be the case. I only recognized one instance where Russell was on the right and that was after a corner kick and he quickly returned to the left. I really want to see Russell on the right and if Khiry is going to start — which is fine — I see no reason to not let him play on the left. If Zusi truly needs the defensive cover, maybe he shouldn’t be starting.

xG Tell a Different Story

If you think Sporting KC are on their way to a Treble, slow your roll. While they beat Vancouver on Saturday — the only team worst than them in the West in 2019 — and they appeared to do it convincingly, some numbers tell a different story. Particularly expected goals (xG).

That’s 2.16 xG for Vancouver and only 0.52 for SKC. While that speaks volumes of Tim Melia coming up big on his saves, it also shows SKC converted low percentage chances. The fact that all three goals arguably could have been up for goal of the week, shows how spectacular they were. Outpacing your xG by that much isn’t sustainable, but it was the first week, it was on turf and SKC should only get more of an offensive rhythm going.

Also, it’s worth noting that xG isn’t the end all, be all of stats. Because Sporting KC were ahead for so long, they didn’t need to attack as much. If they needed a goal instead of stopping to possess the ball, they would have taken more shots and created more chances and their xG would have gone up. But it’s still something to watch as the season goes on.

Ted Unkel Had a Bad Game

I spent most of the game live-Tweeting about how bad referee Ted Unkel was. From the very early yellow card to Gadi Kinda that easily could have been a warning, to the definitely wrong yellow card given to Khiry Shelton for literally just holding his space (and the ball) while the Vancouver midfielder Cristian Dajome slammed into his back repeatedly, Unkel kept making bad calls. I’ll concede Gadi’s foul was a little silly and that Shelton’s hand did make minor contact with Dajome, but only because Cristian kept slamming into him.

The bigger problem from Unkel was inconsistency. Alan Pulido took studs to the ankle and no card was given. And Vancouver had several other heavy challenges or tackles that stopped attacks that didn’t lead to cards. If he called the game consistently, even if I disagreed with the calls, I could have accepted that. I guess it is Week 1 for referees too.

The East Failed to Help Sporting KC

This isn’t technically from Sporting KC versus the Whitecaps, but it feels like it’s worth noting. The Eastern and Western Conference played seven games against each other on the weekend and the West utterly dominated the East going 4-1-2 overall. The lone loss by a Western Conference team against the East was expansion Nashville SC losing a close game to Atlanta United. Otherwise, Sporting got zero help from their foes out East against the teams they’ll be fighting in the West for playoff spots. Thanks a lot Eastern Conference.

What stood out to you from the game? Let us know in the comments.