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Seven Observations from Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake

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Did you hear Peter rotated his squad and used subs?

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City pulled off a 2-0 win over rival Real Salt Lake to seal a spot in the knockout round of the COVID Cup MLS is Back Tournament. Despite the seemingly convincing scoreline, there were still some shaky moments. Overall, it showed promise to grit through a third game in 11 days and (with some help from the Colorado Rapids) ultimately win Group D.

Here is some stuff that jumped out from the game.

*** Hi, this is Cody now. Chad hijacked my article this week so we are going to try out ‘Observations with Commentary’! I’ll attempt to give some perspective on Chad’s bad takes thoughts on the match.

Peter Reads TBT Vermes Rotates AND Subs?!?!

Peter Vermes did some squad rotation and he managed to use all five subs without three of them being in stoppage time (or any of them for that matter). As we discussed this game live on Twitter and in the match thread, everyone seemed pretty stunned.

The rotation was Graham Smith for Matt Besler (though Roberto Puncec slid into Besler’s spot), Gianluca Busio for Gadi Kinda and... that’s kind of it. The subs came in the 58th, 67th (x2) and 84th (x2) minutes.

The key here is, PV has to see that rotation plus subs worked and stick to it. We’ve been advocating for this so long, it feels like quite the win to see it all go off so well. Let’s break it down further.

*** I thought the defensive change was quite interesting. It brings up several questions. Was it just normal squad rotation for Besler? Or was Vermes unhappy with the defense and decided Besler was the needed change? OR is it possible he just really wanted to get his boy Graham Smith some time on the field? - Cody

Felipe Hernandez was Hot Fire

The first substitute of the match came in the 58th minute (!) for Roger Espinoza. Felipe Hernandez made his 2020 debut and played lights out. It felt like vindication for all the Swope Park Rangers fans who have watched Felipe come up and tear through the USL Championship over the last few years.

I thought to myself, ‘just don’t make any mistakes and be defensively sound.’ He was that and much more. He provided a spark the team desperately needed and he showed he should be subbing on for Roger more often.

He also seemed to sure up the defense on the right. In the first half, RSL flew down the left side of the field (right side of the defense). When Hernandez came on, that stopped. Possibly because Corey Baird subbed off a bit later. Possibly RSL fatigue. Possibly because Russell was on the right (more on that later) instead of Shelton. But I think Roger’s tired legs don’t help when he can’t get back to that space.

Hernandez has longer been the Roger Espinoza of SPR / SKC II. He finally got a good chance to show it.

*** My absolute favorite part of the match. A lot of us at TBT have been waiting for the kids to get real playing time so this was great to see. I thought he was lacking a bit of pace, but every other part of the game he did well. Obviously, Hernandez playing well would be HUGE for the club. He can save them the (theoretically) multi-million dollar purchase of a midfielder to replace Roger. - Cody

Four Quality #8 Midfielders

Sporting KC, as mentioned numerous times, play dual No. 8 midfielders. One part of the squad rotation was Gianluca Busio starting for Gadi Kinda. By all accounts Busio had a solid performance (considering the pressure he was under). In the 67th minute, as part of a double sub, Kinda then replaced Busio and his explosiveness caused fits for a tired RSL team.

It showed, even without the injured Felipe Gutierrez, there are four quality midfielders who can (and should) rotate through these spots. The team looked better with fresh legs in the advanced midfield, especially since those two players play from end line to end line.

Now if only there was a logical, capable sub for Ilie Sanchez.

***I actually think we are missing Guti quite a bit. I don’t really disagree with anything you said here, but I do believe the attack isn’t as sharp without him. Felipe was the perfect maestro for this team. He is more of a facilitator in the middle of the field than Kinda is at the moment. But I hope that can be chalked up to Kinda’s lack of MLS experience after just five MLS matches. He is very dangerous around the goal and always looking to go forward so I like him a lot. They just aren’t quite as cohesive right now. I have a lot of thoughts on this one. - Cody

Fresh Legs Winning Games

A fourth observation about subs? Dang right! The above mentioned Hernandez and Kinda came on as subs, but in addition so did Amadou Dia (for Luis Martins), Gerso Fernandes (for Johnny Russell) and Daniel Salloi (for Khiry Shelton). Every time it seemed like RSL were getting the upper hand (usually because a Sporting player was too tired to cover their space), PV went to the bench and changed the game. Gerso obviously put home the beautiful insurance goal which sealed the victory.

I’ve been saying for weeks, ‘if you don’t trust your subs, why are they on your team?’ PV needs to keep showing trust in the guys and hopefully they’ll keep rewarding him. Will it all be perfect? Of course not, someone will make a mistake. But those tired players aren’t even getting in position to mess up because they don’t have the legs. Trust your subs! Trust the kids!

By the way, I’m loving the five sub rule. I know it’s temporary, but at least the option is there for leagues to use it next year too. It gets more people involved.

*** I wouldn’t mind if the five subs rule was one of the COVID changes to society that becomes the norm if/when we are through all this. But yes, too many observations about subs. Classic Chad. - Cody

Russell Looked Better on the Right

All season Johnny Russell has been playing left wing with Khiry on the right. There were theories that it was defensive cover for Graham Zusi at RB (and that may be true). But Russell spent most of the game on the RW and he looked so much better. He scored a goal (though it was hardly related to this). And he just looked more dangerous and comfortable in general. His fitness is still not there as he was visibly hunched over on his knees multiple times, but hopefully whatever kept him out of training and caused him to lose fitness, won’t hold him back much longer.

*** I’m so conflicted with this. Of course JFR belongs on the right. But Khiry on the wing officially won me over this match. There’s just no way you can change that right now. I’m sure it is frustrating for Johnny but if Shelton and Pulido keep scoring like that then Vermes will roll with it. - Cody

That Gerso Goal!

First off, what a beautiful strike from Gerso. He cut it back on his dominate (only?) foot and curled it around the defense and the keeper to put the game out of reach. It reminded me a bit of his 2017 debut season with Sporting where he was consistently an inverted winger on the right before Russell arrived and forced him left.

In addition to the goal being so pretty, it was a team effort. As both ESPN’s Paul Carr and multiple league sources pointed out, all 11 SKC players touched the ball before it went in the net. Teamwork.

*** You know how I feel about Gerso so the fact he actually finished that play off made me jump out of chair and hit my knee on my desk. It left a mark. I would really like to see Gerso push Shelton for that starting winger spot, but when he comes off the bench you KNOW the opposing defense is truly dreading the events to come. - Cody

It Wasn’t All Peachy for SKC

There were large stretches (mostly in the first half) where Real Salt Lake really dominated the game. The Grahams (Smith and Zusi) didn’t look great at times as the right half of the back line, but they did enough to keep it scoreless (or others bailed them out). Honestly, the whole defense at times looked less than perfect, but they got the job done.

One thing that stood out was that RSL won the possession battle 58.1% to 41.9%. Obviously, that’s not how Peter wants the team to play and the first half was a lot of sending balls long and not holding on. They overcame it in the second (as evidence by that possession oriented goal) and honestly at times, took too many touches. There were times when multiple players probably should have shot but possession was ultimately lost.

*** It was far from peachy. I will say again, they are missing Felipe Gutierrez. But I do think Gadi Kinda is only going to get better. - Cody

Highlights

If you missed it, here are some extended highlights to hit the high points for you.

Sporting KC are back in action on Sunday and their opponent will be determined on Thursday with possible short rest opponents as of this writing being the Vancouver Whitecaps, LAFC, LA Galaxy or the Houston Dynamo.

*** Let us know in the comments how you feel about this commentary idea.***