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Six Observations to Sporting KC’s win over Vancouver

We repeat our ‘point, counterpoint’ format from last week.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City had us all biting our nails as they took the match with the Vancouver Whitecaps into penalty kicks before SKC eventually put it away. Now we look back at the good and the bad from Sunday night (Monday morning).

Chad’s Reactions: Last week, Cody got the chance to agree with or obliterate my reactions, so I’m returning the favor.

Dos Santos has Vancouver on the rise

We saw first hand just how great of a coach Marc Dos Santos is during his short time here with Swope Park Rangers. He has a wonderful mind for the game and a knack for getting the most out of his players.

With him at the helm, this Vancouver Whitecaps team looks set to make waves later this summer and beyond. The ‘Caps missed the playoffs the past two seasons, finishing dead last in the West in 2019. But they are now organized, in the right mindset, and starting to put down some quality performances.

They were a couple PK’s away from advancing and they did it missing key players all over the field. Dos Santos has serious reinforcements coming! After the match he was asked about looking ahead to the rest of the season and he just sat back to list off all the toys he had to leave at home.

The list is absolutely stacked with important pieces and big names:

Janio Bikel, keepers Maxime Crepeau & Brian Meredith, Erik Godoy, Andy Rose, Tosaint Ricketts, David Milinkovic, Freddy Montero, and - oh yeah - their new DP striker out of Liga MX, Lucas Cavallini.

There are much brighter days ahead for most palatable of the Pacific Northwest teams. But it was time for them to go back home.

Chad: Marc dos Santos is a good coach. The rebuild in Vancouver will take time and I hope that management sticks with him. It might not be in this shortened season, but he is headed the right way. Don’t forget, Sporting KC wanted Cavallini too, or at least it was rumored to be so.

The Real Prodigy

The Whitecaps’ 21-year-old, third-string goalkeeper Thomas Hasal was fantastic. He was the story on the night as he faced a barrage of shots from SKC, 35 to be exact. Hasal made eight saves en route to forcing the game to penalty kicks, the best of which was a slight tip of an Alan Pulido bullet to push the ball onto the post and out of his net. The youngster took a knee to the back of the head and also headbutted the in-goal camera, all while being the only keeper on the roster.

Like I said, fantastic.

Then came the final PK of the night. It was from the boot of another youngster, Gianluca Busio. You never doubted him. I never doubted him. My new puppy to whom I was clinging for support never doubted him. The 18-year-old stepped up and fired it home like a seasoned veteran. Hasal even guessed the right way with strong pounce because he was truly in the zone. It just wasn’t enough to stop the real prodigy.

Busio put that game away with ice in his veins. The kid’s a star.

Chad: Hard to disagree with Cody here. Thomas “The Wall” Hasal burst into American and Canadian homes and showed what can happen when you play your kids. Speaking of the kids, Busio didn’t get enough time for my liking. He came on in the 67th minute when the 55th would have been better. That said, I’ll commend Peter Vermes for at least getting Espinoza some rest and Busio a little action. The timing (or lack of) other subs was a bigger issue for me.

Let’s leave you with your introduction to Hasal.

Centerback Depth Chart

Peter Vermes left Matt Besler on the bench for the second straight match. It creates a few questions, all of which would make Vermes roll his eyes.

Is Besler in the dog house? What is the depth chart at centerback at the moment? Who will start next match?

We know PV likes to roll with the hot hand and the defense (and the whole team) has looked much better the past two matches with Graham Smith slotted in. Smith was the clear target on all set pieces vs Vancouver. He is definitely athletic and while some attempts were way off, you see flashes of why they aim for him. I’ve noticed he does often make last ditch efforts to make plays. Whether he is saving the day or only fixing problems he created himself, is not yet clear.

Chad: I’ve seen some discussion on Twitter that PV will go back to Besler when the quality of opponent goes up, but I’m not so sure. Vermes seems to like sticking with what’s working and it’s hard to argue two straight shut outs aren’t working. However, a lot of that has to do with Real Salt Lake and the Whitecaps not attacking much. In the first half against RSL there was lots of emergency defending on the right side of the back line. Since then, no one has really tested the Grahams. The Philadelphia Union will and it’ll be interesting to see who starts. One player who isn’t getting on the field is Winston Reid which just has to mean he isn’t fit, right?

What to do with Johnny Russell?

I’m going to get the obvious out there right away:

Russell is better on the right. He has ceased to be JFR since moving to the left wing.

But the attack is really dangerous right now. The build up play against the Whitecaps was really beautiful! Plus it isn’t like Johnny is playing bad. His free kicks have been absolutely spot on, he still draws in multiple defenders, and he’s creating chances. He’s just been missing that bit of individual magic that changes a game in the blink of an eye. You know he must be a little frustrated in spite of the team’s success. He wants to be unleashed!

But I just don’t see how you can change things up right now. As long as Khiry Shelton keeps turning in these strong performances he will be out there on the right.

Chad: I’ve been beating this drum all season. Russell plays better on the right and Shelton seems fine on the left. I thought Russell had his best game of 2020 and if those chances/cut ins/interchanges come on the right, I bet he is a lot more goal dangerous than he was on the left. Bonus thought: why were Gerso Fernandes and Daniel Salloi playing as true wingers instead of inverted wingers? Crossing didn’t work, go back to inverting your wingers!

The silently solid Luis Martins

Outside backs aren’t sexy. They don’t score the goals or get the girls. If they’re trending on Twitter it’s probably because they got nutmegged by a fancy-footed winger. So if you aren’t hearing a whole lot about your outside back, you’re doing just fine! As is such with our very own Luis Martins.

In the Colorado Rapids match, my man’s name wasn’t even uttered on the broadcast until about the 35th minute.

Of course this means he hasn’t necessarily been spectacular either. The defense as a whole hadn’t look very good until Sunday night, but it’s easy to see opposing teams are choosing to attack the other side of the field. While his crosses sometimes have a certain bite to them, like the rest of the team they often don’t find the right color jersey. But I have very much enjoyed his game this season. Beyond doing all the dirty work required of a Vermes outside back, he’s actually quite clever and combines well in triangles with everyone around him.

Keep an eye on Martins and be sure to give him that extra bit of appreciation when he finds the extra gear on a recovery run or slides in at the last moment to block a shot.

Chad: I thought Martins had his best defensive game and worst offensive game. He wasn’t tested much on defense, but he got back and broke up some players. On offense, he had a few shots that were not good and he just kept dumping in endless crosses whether there was a Sporting KC jersey in the vicinity or not. I’m not sure if that’s on players not making runs in the box (fatigue?) or if that was simply bad decision making by Martins. I’ll agree with Cody that he’s been pretty good all season though.

Sporting KC come out of this a stronger team

It doesn’t matter whether you have Diego Rubio or a $10 million DP Striker, hell it doesn’t matter if Lionel Messi is on your team, matches like this are always going to happen. The headlines wanted to be about Hasal. They wanted to talk about Dos Santos’ game plan and his ability to inspire players. But Sporting KC stayed focused through all the frustration and squashed that story.

Hasal went into those penalty kicks flying high and feeling invincible. There’s no way this was not on the minds of the SKC players as they made their approach. We saw some mental strength on display.

This game felt like classic Sporting from years’ past. But the difference was the result. This one didn’t slip away. You have to be proud of these guys for grinding it out. They are a stronger and more mature team having a survived a tough elimination match like this one.

Chad: I’ll agree that these games happen, but if this is the regular season it’s a draw and they wouldn’t be getting credit for “grinding it out.” I’ll quote TBT’s own Mark Baehr on crosses instead of playing through the middle and combing for chances.

I asked Peter about crosses in preseason and he disagreed that they do it too often in losses. I think it’s an issue, though I will concede when a team bunkers like the Caps did there will be less openings to dribble/pass through. The game was screaming out for a sub for Gadi Kinda and if Felipe Hernandez hasn’t earned his chance based on the RSL appearance, I don’t know what the kid has to do. Rotate your midfielders as it’s the key part of the field for Sporting to win the game. Lose the midfield and you risk losing the game.

Sporting KC will be back in action against the Union on Thursday at a much more reasonable hour. Win or lose, we’ll have some more thoughts.

Join us in the comments and tell us your observations. What stood out to you? Who is right above, Cody or Chad? Or is it none of the above?