It can be difficult to absorb everything from a live match when you’re working on something in the press box. Or singing in the Cauldron. Or even just at home dealing with kids or puppies.
Emotions run high during a game. That guy you hate on the other team is mouthing off, you’re pretty sure the ref is trying to cheat, and why is your favorite player is sitting on the bench!? It’s easy to make knee-jerk reactions. But after a few days to calm down, we can watch a match with a different perspective. A clearer head.
So this is what I saw from watching Sporting Kansas City’s 1-0 win over Minnesota United a second time around:
That Familiar Feeling
I felt it. You felt it. Your dog felt it. Sporting was dominating but with each passing minute, each missed opportunity, you couldn’t help but wonder when Minnesota was going to steal a goal.
Unfortunately, this has become the norm as an SKC fan. A fast start to the season had me believing those days were gone. You know, before the world shut down. But they’ve lost some bite to the attack without Alan Pulido on the field. How long is day-to-day anyway?
Peter Vermes has seemingly been throwing out every possible combination of players until something sticks. We’ve all been disappointed by lackluster individual performances this season. But a few players were on top of their game Sunday night, and might have done enough to secure their spot.
Matt Besler had lost a lot of my trust there for a minute. All the guys on the podcast had him as the 3rd or 4th CB on the depth chart at one point! But wearing the armband for the first time in a while, the captain looked like his old self. He was back to skipping the midfield with smart passing and stepping up confidently to make interceptions.
Graham Zusi had a great night as well. This was partially because he wasn’t forced to defend too much, but it was vintage Zusi. We hadn’t seen Johnny Russell unleash JFR until this match. And I changed my opinion of Luis Martins the second time around. He had a few consecutive crosses in a row that amounted to nothing, but he created three of the best chances of the match and had two or three huge tackles. (Thad noted on the podcast that Zusi, Russell, and Martins were the highest rated players this match. So I took my victory lap.)
SKC was attacking from all angles in this one, but they were particularly effective in building up on the left side. The combination of Gadi Kinda and Gerso Fernandes is just impossible to defend.
It is also impossible to read as a teammate, but don’t worry about that! Good things will happen if the defense is confused.
The two of them are just so slippery. They have the audacity to try things and talent pull them off. Behind them, Luis Martins does well to feed the creativity. And Khiry Shelton is crafty enough in front of them as well.
Sometimes it’s going to look ridiculous, but one of these days the stars will align and they’ll produce the goal of the year.
A common knock on Vermes is a reluctance or inability to adapt and make in-game adjustments. In years’ past he would have stayed strong with his team creating so many chances. But he was forced to switch things up.
Khiry wasn’t playing poorly but squandered a few big chances and was feeling some tightness, so Vermes made a change much earlier than we are used to seeing. Cameron Duke entered in the 54th minute and left the team without a striker. But rather, a False-9.
Is that guy a striker?— The Blue Testament (@BlueTestamentKC) September 14, 2020
I’m not exactly making some grand statement here that a brilliant move from PV gave them the win, but I do think different movement from Kinda helped create space for Russell to roam.
The Midfield You Didn’t Know You Needed
All three starting midfielders are guys I wanted to see play a lot this season. But I definitely didn’t think any of them would be a regular starter. An experienced, expensive midfield of Ilie Sanchez - Roger Espinoza - Felipe Gutierrez has become an inexperienced Gianluca Busio - Felipe Hernandez - Gadi Kinda.
But the numbers don’t lie. Sporting were in control with a 60/40 split of possession and created 21 shots to Minnesota’s six. Busio was out there swagging around, playing with a casual confidence like he was Andres Iniesta. Hernandez was far from perfect, but I was quite impressed by his performance as well.
These three may not be what we envisioned for Sporting KC this season, but they’re proving to be effective. Kinda slid into his first MLS season with ease and the progression of the youth movement in Busio, Hernandez, and Duke is very encouraging.