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10 Observations from Sporting KC’s 5-2 Loss to Houston

Lots to talk about from last night’s upset.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Sporting Kansas City
Winston Reid gets a hug from Kiki Struna?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

To say that last night’s debacle against the Houston Dynamo was hard to watch is an understatement. Sporting Kansas City were competitive for around 30-minutes and then it was pretty much all downhill from there. Let’s look for some high points in addition to all the bad stuff we saw.

Gadi Kinda Can’t and Won’t Stop

The man just runs all day. He clearly wore himself down late after having done the same thing on Friday against Minnesota United. But Sporting KC have found themselves a star in the midfield. The rumor is his loan has been picked up to make his move permanent, if it wasn’t already.

Kinda also scored his team leading fourth goal in league play (Pulido has four in all competitions) last night from a tougher than it would appear position. After a Graham Zusi cross came in and Pulido made partial contact to push it off the crossbar, Kinda did a bit of a standing half bicycle over his head from the goal line. That was as close as the game would get at 2-3.

Russel from the Left

I have long been an advocate of Johnny Russell playing right winger. He is best cutting back onto his dominant left foot and he sometimes looked lost on the left early in the season. However, Khiry Shelton has struggled on the left a bit since they’ve flipped roles.

Well maybe the case can be made Russell can do some work on the left. In the last two games, two goals have resulted from him playing on the left, even if both were a bit lucky. On Friday, he sent a hard cross into the box that led to a Minnesota United own goal. On Tuesday, he cleaned up a Gerso cross and Pulido shot that caromed off the crossbar by being in the right place to put the ball in the back of the net.

The wingers always flip throughout the game, no matter who is on the field it would seem. I don’t always love it, but when it’s Shelton and Russell, it really makes sense as both seem at their best on the right. It could be argued Gerso Fernandes is best on the right too, as he scored his team leading eight goals there when he arrived back in 2017. Let’s just keep Salloi on the left (or maybe on a loan to SKC II).

Early Chances

It’s often said that if “Sporting just finished their chances” it all would change games. Of course goals change games. In many games, there are plenty of missed chances. Think of the game in the round of 16 against the Vancouver Whitecaps where they dramatically out shot their opponent but failed to score.

Last night, there were two early chances, one a little better than the other. Gianluca Busio struck a ball from waaaaay out that, had it been anywhere but directly above the keeper, it probably goes in. The other was Russell’s half-volley after a lovely Roger Espinoza header on a broken clearance that really needs to be on target.

Even if those two go in, Sporting seems they would have found a way to lose (at best that’s 4-5 at that point, right?), though you can’t be sure because it changes the game state. Reid had a good header on a set piece late (it’s good to see that’s in his game) but it was cleared off the line. It’s hard to play ‘what if’ though as Houston mostly sat back for the last half hour not needing more goals.

Best Defender

Can we choose none of them? It was a rough night for the defense as a whole. You can’t allow five goals and think things went well. Lots of blame is being heaped on Jaylin Lindsey if my Twitter timeline is any indication, but for me, there is plenty to go around.

First, it seems like a bad move not rotating defenders after just three days of rest, especially in that humidity. I was sure Reid wouldn’t start after Peter Vermes said he was tired due to the humidity and lack of playing time in the Minnesota game. Kansas City was much more humid. Ask Stacy.

The center back pairing also seemed like a bad idea. It was the two oldest CBs on the team and probably the two slowest (though Andreu Fontas may fight to be called the slowest). The team seems to work best with someone like Besler or Reid on the left controlling the game and someone more athletic next to them like Roberto Puncec or Graham Smith, to cover for Zusi who is so far up the field.

As for Lindsey, he had a bad night. He didn’t have a great night against Minnesota either. Before we all crucify him, he was playing out of position again at LB. He only has 10 MLS appearances (nine starts) over three seasons. And I only remember one of them coming at his preferred spot, right back. Plus fatigue was probably an issue. Sadly, I could see him (or Besler) taking the fall for this and not seeing the field for a while. But maybe not with the way Peter spoke after the game (see below).

So by default that leaves us with Zusi as the best defender. I don’t think he played bad. He was definitely good offensively. At times he was the furthest player up the pitch so the other defenders have to hold up play to allow him to get back, which didn’t always happen. He wasn’t great, but by default he’s the best. He’s probably the only one we see Saturday against the Colorado Rapids. The man never seems to get tired. And his back, Lindsey, just played two full games. Unless KC go double left backs (Amadou Dia and Luis Martins) on the road in Denver. There are no more true fullbacks (though Cameron Duke can play there).

A Look at all Five Houston Goals

I’m counting this as five observations, sue me.

  • Goal 1: Delightful back heel by Memo Rodriguez. Quintero finds Alberth Elis, who times his run well, and the defense just freezes. I never understand why defenders stop and look around, if the ball has been passed, you should go with it, right? The player is already off or onside when the pass goes forward. With that kind of play, it’s hard to believe Houston only had six goals coming into this match (that’s right, they nearly doubled their season output).
  • Goal 2: Great interchange between Ramirez, Quintero and Rodriguez before the pass out wide to Elis who is wide open. Lindsey quickly closes him down but Winston Reid is a yard or two behind the rest of the defense when he should just step up and Ramirez would be offside. Tap in.
  • Goal 3: This one is bad. A throw from the keeper to the right back. Simple pass to the CF who Besler over commits to following. He one-touches it to Nico Hansen who has flown by Jaylin Lindsey. It’s two on one against Tim Melia and Nansen chips it home. Melia never had a chance.
  • Goal 4: Rodriguez (quietly the best player?) with the switch to Darwin Quintero. Zusi is still getting back on defense so Winston Reid pulls over to cover him. It seems Zusi here should have tracked the runner (Darwin Ceren) who does a back heel to Quintero (taking Busio out of the play). Quintero skates across the top of the box with Besler and Lindsey held by runners at the back post and Espinoza is late to arrive and doesn’t really challenge the shot which is placed perfectly. He was subbed off immediately after this.
  • Goal 5: Hanson just dribbles half the length the field. Busio challenges but gets beat. Jaylin Lindsey trails the play the entire time, never looking like he’s trying to get to the goal side of the defender (he actually appears to run hard, but Hansen casually stays in front of him). Zusi is running hard down his side of the defense but he is coming from the other end of the pitch and doesn’t get there in time (maybe because no one slowed Houston at all). Hansen easily splits all the defenders and Quintero has a nice finish around Melia. This felt like a combination of tired legs and being stretched to try to score to get back in the game.

Plenty of blame to go around here. Lindsey doesn’t look great. All the defenders have bad moments. I’d argue Vermes was either a little late on the subs or he should have rotated some starters. And maybe it’s a bit of a tactical problem to always have both fullbacks so far up the field. Would the attack really be that much worse with just one of them forward at a time? Or even just slightly deeper in the midfield?

I feel like I’ve said enough about this game. Let’s move on.

Post Game Vermes was Quite Calm

In his post game presser, maybe because he was numb, Peter Vermes was stunningly calm. Saying these things happen sometimes and other things you don’t usually hear out of him. Sporting KC are still in first place in the West (though first place in the Supporter’s Shield would have been nice).

The key to the rest of this season will be how SKC deal with all these congested games. Playing once a week this team seems to be quality. Jam the games closer together and it quickly falls apart. Maybe more than two players will need to be rotated on this midweek games (read: definitely more than two).

This team doesn’t have to do much to qualify for the playoffs. A high seed and home field advantage would be nice (avoiding that same day travel), but they need to be in a rhythm most importantly when the MLS Cup Playoffs arrive.

Match Highlights

Not that you want to, but here is the seven minute version.