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11 Observations from Sporting KC v Minnesota United

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Not great, but it could have been worse?

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Sporting Kansas City Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

A game that started so promising between Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United came all crashing down late. Let’s take a look at what went right and what went wrong.

An Opportunity Lost

Sporting KC started out so strong and basically dominated the first 60 minutes or so of the match before it all fell apart. The biggest thing that jumps out at my mind, is they missed a real chance to take down a weakened Minnesota United club. They were without the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Ike Opara. They were also missing their enforcer (read: their dirtiest player) Osvaldo Alonso. And during pregame warm-ups their new striker, Luis Amarilla, pulled up with an injury.

That would be like if Matt Besler, Ilie Sanchez and Alan Pulido missed the game for KC. No one would expect them to win at that point. It was a real gift to the Loons.

Aaron Schoenfeld

Because Amarilla didn’t start, that opened the door for US National Team forward Mason Toye. However, he was mostly ineffective before coming off injured. That injury might have been KC’s undoing as Schoenfeld, his replacement, was the spark that lit the fire for Minnesota. His hustle and movement against a tired (and admittedly short-handed) SKC team opened up all the chances the team needed to steal all three points.

That Damn Red Card

Obviously, the red card changed everything. It was Schoenfeld’s touch that left Besler out of position but Tim Melia still had help in Roberto Puncec. Melia had over committed himself and was out in no man’s land. In retrospect, staying deeper in goal would have been better (hindsight is 20/20 after all) even if a goal is scored. SKC could make some subs and try to regain their control of the game that they’d lost in the proceeding minutes.

Oh, and to be clear, it’s the right call. I’ve seen some people very upset about the card but he misses the ball and gets the man. Puncec is there but it’s definitely and obvious goal scoring opportunity that Melia takes away with the sloppy challenge. If he gets the ball first, as a keeper, maybe he gets a yellow or nothing at all. But he didn’t.

Richard Sanchez

Not having Melia against Colorado could be a big blow. Sanchez didn’t look great in replacement of Melia, but the team only had 10 men and did look a little tired. On the own goal for Khiry Shelton that tied the game, Sanchez doesn’t fully commit and probably could have made that save. On the next one I give him a bit more of a pass as he is moving back to his left as the ball comes to his left and it takes a deflection freezing him.

Sanchez hasn’t been great in MLS but Friday against the Colorado Rapids will be a chance to prove himself. The coaching staff is pretty high on him and let’s hope he shows some of what they see.

Set Piece Defending

It’s been a sore spot for quite sometime and it struck again on Sunday night. The first Minnesota goal, which was correctly called back, came off a set piece. And then the own goal from Shelton did as well. Sporting have to get better in this area or the ‘return to play’ will be short. Colorado is particularly good on set pieces so Friday it’ll be something to watch. Maybe SKC can just not commit any fouls or give up any corners?

These Highlights...

...aren’t representative of the game I watched. The first 60 minutes were utterly dominated by Sporting but that’s not show here. I wanted a quick refresher on the game and this did not help.

Edit: Here are some slightly longer highlights, but they still leave out the huge Gerso flub.

Gerso’s Missed Chances

The speed of Gerso Fernandes was giving Minnesota fits all night long. It’s just a shame he couldn’t make it count. He would beat defenders for pace and then take one too many touches. He had some pretty good passes across the face of the goal only for them to be a bit off. I think it was him taking too long to make those passes personally as it impacted the timing of his runners in the box. It was his first start of the year, so it’s understandable chemistry would be off.

The most glaring mistake came when Gerso got into behind the defense and Shelton was to his left. It was basically two Sporting player versus the keeper (with a trailing defender) and Gerso had options. Most attacking players can simply beat the keeper but the easier play is probably a square ball across for a tap in. Instead... well... I’m not sure what happened. Gerso definitely touched the ball and it slowly rolled to the keeper. It wasn’t clear if it was a pass, shot or bad dribble. That would have made it 2-0 and changed the game.

It wasn’t just Gerso though. The case could easily be made for two or three extra goals. Hopefully some of the rust comes off on Friday.

It Wasn’t All Bad for Gerso

As mentioned, he gave the defense fits but he also played an integral part in the lone Kansas City goal. His run down the left wing makes keeper Tyler Miller take that poor step and opens up the shot for Khiry Shelton to put home.

Shelton

Speaking of Shelton, outside of the unfortunate own goal, he played really well. His touch looked very good. His pace and work rate appeared to be wearing Minnesota down. And even though the goal wasn’t anything spectacular, the simple fact that he had the confidence to drive it home means something. In 2018 he may have passed that ball and Gerso had let up slightly which probably means no goal.

He already has two goals (three if you count the own goal) in just three games in 2020 where he played in 20 in 2018 and only scored two. Fun stat from our own Mike Kuhn — the goals in 2018 and 2020 were against the same teams.

If not for the own goal, it was probably a perfect night. I’m going to chalk that up to Shelton still not being too great in the air. Seems like he should just head that ball out of there. Easy for me to say though.

Vermes and His Subs: A Critique

The first sub — Johnny Russell for Gerso — came in the 73rd minute. That’s relatively late considering the heat and humidity as well as the fatigue the players were no doubt feeling. I will agree the team looked really good for the first hour, but the introduction of Aaron Schoenfeld in the 59th minute seemed to change the game. And Sporting took too long to respond.

Then the next sub comes just minutes later due to the red card and the final three subs come in the 94th minute. Only after the team had given up the equalizer. I understand Vermes’ philosophy that he doesn’t want to change what is working, but I’m going to disagree with it. You have to trust your backups. Know that they are aware of what they are supposed to do. They got on so late and with the score tied and down a man, they were pushing to score and then a second, game losing goal, was given up.

Vermes and His Subs: A Defense

Now I do want to try to justify what I saw Vermes doing. The Russell sub happens at the worst time. He comes on in the 73rd minute and Melia’s red card comes in the 74th. If the sub hadn’t been made, Vermes would have two sub actions left after Melia comes off (as teams can make five subs over three actions plus halftime).

Instead he only had one action left and I suspect he was saving it because of all the players that had been going down with cramps in the games leading up to Sporting playing. But of course SKC were Sporting Fit and no one cramped up and had to come off. So Vermes saves the sub action for nothing and it all goes wrong.

I will say, as was pointed out to me in the comments on this site, PV had a water break when Sanchez was coming on to replace Melia who had been sent off. Maybe that was the time to pull a forward for an extra defender. Maybe Winston Reid heads away that set piece own goal.

Here is what Vermes had to say on the Russell sub and the subsequent sub pattern:

“On the Johnny (Russell) sub - we were thinking we were probably going to have to change both of our wingers, because they were going to be under a lot of strain and stress in the game,” started Vermes. “We just felt that we’d find a lot of the game there and they’d have to cover a lot of ground. So that was to be expected.”

“The problem is, right after that, we were probably going to make another sub. And then next thing you know, Timmy gets thrown out. The problem with that is now you’ve got to sub a goalkeeper in but you’ve also got to take a player off to do that. That kind of changed everything around quite a bit. The guys were tired at that moment. What happened was, I only wanted to do one (change) at that moment to kind of settle the team down with the goalkeeper. What it did was it left us with one last sub (opportunity) and if we’re going to put three, then we’re going to put three on. I just felt that we needed to get fresh legs and I didn’t want to push those other guys. I still think it was the right decision. I have all the confidence in the world that the rest of those guys can play and do the job, it’s just that we should have put the game away a lot earlier and not have been in that position.”

Bonus Observations

  • Man Gadi Kinda is fun to watch. He was slick, weaving through defenders, putting himself in dangerous spots and generally causing trouble. He’s a difference maker.
  • That Alan Pulido assist was a thing of beauty. If only someone had gotten him the ball in the box so he could have kept his goal scoring streak alive.

Overall, I think the game showed real promise from Sporting. The red card was unfortunate and giving up two goals in stoppage time was brutal. That said, if they can do what they did in the first 60 minutes for just a bit longer, then they still have a solid chance to advance out of the group stage of the MLS is Back Tournament.

The Blue Testament will bring you ongoing coverage of all things SKC. Just a few days until they are back in action against the Colorado Rapids on Friday.

What did you notice from the game? Join us in the comments and keep the discussion going.