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Seven Observations from Sporting KC vs Colorado Rapids

Sporting get the win but not without a lot going wrong along the way.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Sporting Kansas City
Graham Zusi complaining about a possible handball on Diego Rubio in the box.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City and the Colorado Rapids played a wild game last night to an eventual 3-2 win for KC in extra time. It was a reversal in fortune having lost in extra time five days prior to Minnesota United. SKC are very much alive in the COVID Cup MLS is Back Tournament. There is so much to unpack from this game so let’s get into it.

A Lot of Luck Was Had

The first hour or so wasn’t great for Sporting KC. That’s pretty obvious. It does appear they had a bit of luck on their side. The first red card was obvious (though it took the VAR to get it right) and I’m not sure what was said by Jack Price on the second but you don’t often see a straight red for something said by a player to an official. The official report says “four and abusive language” but the foul appeared to be clearly committed by Jonathan Lewis.

Then let’s get to the real luck. First, the Diego Rubio “handball.” I’m not sure it’s a handball, so much so it get’s it’s own paragraph below. The second bit of luck is that Graham Zusi game winner. An awkward deflection happens to flip the ball over the keeper who is just off his line. That’s the definition of luck.

Not to say Sporting KC wouldn’t have found a way as they essentially played keep away after putting in the game winner. But it doesn’t hurt to have some luck.

The Rubio Handball

Does his hand touch the ball? Sure. It seems obvious it hit his hand upon further camera angles and the change of the flight/spin of the ball. My question is, does it hit his thigh first? I can’t tell definitively that it does or doesn’t. I don’t think it does, but is that enough to overturn the original no call on the field?

Sporting KC definitely benefit from the call and let’s be honest, that shot has a very low chance of going in. On the expected goal (xG) chart it’s a very small dot. Alan Pulido makes no mistake and finishes the penalty kick without question. At least Sporting don’t need to worry about who takes PKs anymore.

The hand ball debate starts around the 2:50 mark in the highlights below. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Ohhh... the Defense

The D didn’t look good (huge understatement of course). The first goal it seems no one is taking the threat of Colorado very seriously and suddenly it’s 1-0 in just the 6th minute. Everyone probably left too much space for their men but is it’s Matt Besler’s job to close down Kellyn Acosta before he drills that home? Great shot from Acosta bending it around the keeper.

On the second goal, with SKC up TWO MEN, it’s real bad. First off, the team is winning 2-1, so I’m not sure why so many people were pushing so high up the field. You don’t need a goal. If you get another that’s great but not allowing a goal should be priority one.

[Update: This story originally said that Zusi won the initial header from RB but in fact it was Roger Espinoza who was covering for Zusi who was the furthest player up the pitch, just reinforcing the above point. Thanks to Dan Brown for pointing this out on Twitter.]

This came off a goal kick. Roger Espinoza wins the initial header but it goes straight to Kei Kamara. None of the midfielders are back (probably because they are tired) yet. Kamara plays a ball to Lewis. Lewis draws Espinoza in, who is clearly exhausted, who over commits as the ball goes back to Kei. Kei then plays a quick pass back to Lewis which Roberto Puncec over commits on as well. Suddenly Lewis is all alone with Besler and Luis Martins forced to try to come over and close him down from a distance, but they never stood a chance.

The sequence starts around 5:51 in the below highlights (which are lengthier, but leave out lots of key moments in the game for some reason).

The goals weren’t the only bad moments. The midfield consistently looked out of position which left the defenders a bit stranded. A better team makes KC pay with more than two goals.

Jonathan Lewis Looks Onside

Speaking of the goals, many people seemed to be claiming that Lewis was a few steps offside. Every angle I could see he appears to be on, or at the least, it doesn’t seem to show he’s clearly off. That said, there are no shots straight down the line. The initial replay from beyond the defense is close, but the higher angle camera seems more clear.

Either way, it’s razor close and if it’s not clear and obvious you can’t change it. If memory serves, they delayed the restart for the VAR to look, but he obviously didn’t see enough. Regardless, no way should Sporting even be in a situation like that up two men.

How Good was Khiry Shelton?!

Let’s not be all negative today, the team did win. I’ll be the first to say that I was not on the Khiry Shelton bandwagon back in 2018. I saw a lot of loose touches, no confidence in front of goal and atrocious play in the air. But that year spent in Germany with SC Paderborn 07 made a new man (Kirby Sheldon...). Or maybe he’s what Peter Vermes always saw in him.

Either way, he’s come back to Sporting KC the new and improved version of himself. He still has his unbelievable work rate, pace and great off the ball movement, but he’s pairing it with an increasingly good touch and much improved finishing instincts (I still don’t love what I see from him in the air). I don’t think I’m going out on a ledge at all saying he’s the best winger on the team right now. Hopefully he’ll push his fellow wingers to be as good as he is.

Sporting KC Missed Lots of Chances

Off the top of my head three jump out egregiously at me. Gerso’s wide open chance (it starts at 5:15) setup by a lot of good ball movement, the lack of two Colorado players and a good dish from Pulido, comes to nothing. Gerso takes a touch and William Yarbrough does a great job of closing him down. He probably needs to take it first time as it’s on his preferred foot.

The second two are chances from Khiry Shelton. Ironically I think he scored a beautiful goal on what was the toughest chance of the night and he could have had two more (or at least facilitated another and scored another) on easier chances. The first comes in the first half when his scuffed shot it cleared off the line by Jack Price. If he hits it clean, it’s a goal. I also don’t think Lalas Abubakar fouled him, he just looks off balance trying to adjust to the ball in the air.

The second Khiry miss is one he never shot. Khiry gets in behind the defense with the ball (it’s not in the highlight packages) but Yarbrough smothers the ball before he can get a shot or a pass off. There were definitely some really good chances to add to SKC’s total.

Let’s Talk Subs... Again

Sporting made three of a possible five changes, but one probably doesn’t happen if not for a late injury/cramp from Luis Martins. Gerso Fernandes, rightfully, comes on in the 54th minute for a fairly ineffective Johnny Russell. The next sub, despite severe fatigue, wasn’t made until Gianluca Busio came on in the 82nd minute for Gadi Kinda. The final sub was Amadou Dia’s first 2020 appearance for the aforementioned Martins in the 100th minute.

Roger Espinoza, despite all his effort, seemed exhausted basically the entire 2nd half outside of intermittent bursts. You can’t tell me a fresh Felipe Hernandez doesn’t deserve a chance to spell Roger with the instructions to just play simple and smart. I’d have also brought on Erik Hurtado for Pulido. Hurtado could have pushed a tired nine man Rapids back line and also saved Pulido for next Wednesday.

If all the “starters” start again, there has to be more subs and earlier. The team was clearly gassed. There were huge gaps in the midfield and I chalk that up to fatigue. If they weren’t playing against a nine-man team, they wouldn’t have been able to pull it off. Granted, if they were losing, Vermes would have made his subs (if you look back, he’s good about it when behind). He just never seems to want to make changes when it’s even or they have a lead, even if they are tired. Something has got to give.

What did you notice most from the game having now had the better part of a day (or more depending on when you read this) to think about it? Let us know in the comments.