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Seven Observations from Sporting KC vs. FC Dallas

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Some ups and some downs from Sporting’s return to Kansas City.

SOCCER: SEP 02 MLS FC Dallas at Sporting Kansas City Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sporting Kansas City fought back last night to earn a draw against FC Dallas on the back of a beautifully worked team goal that was finished by an outside of the boot shot by striker (yeah, he’s back in the middle) Khiry Shelton. There were bad moments and good, so let’s get to it.

Khiry the Striker!

Let’s start positive. Khiry Shelton looked very good in the striker role last night. He had some bad touches here and there, but he has shown dramatic improvement over the 2018 version of himself. He also scored a team leading fourth goal (tied with Gadi Kinda and Alan Pulido*). Goals aren’t everything, but they are awfully important and he has now doubled his output in goals from 2018 (he had just two in 20 appearances that year, he has only nine appearances in 2020). If he could have finished that beautiful pass from Luis Martins that he kind of lost in his feet, it would have been a near perfect night.

Also, Shelton playing so well at CF shows Sporting KC they can afford to rest Alan Pulido. Which is good, he can’t play all the games if you want him to stay healthy and fresh. Though he should spend his days off doing something better than making awful hair choices.

Thanks to our own Jimmy Mack for screen capping this from Pulido’s Instagram story.
*Pulido’s fourth isn’t on the regular season books as it came against the Philadelphia Union in the knockout rounds of the MLS is Back tournament.

Busio, Busio, BUSIO!

Everyone is saying it so I’ll jump in too... Busio looks great at defensive midfielder. He’d never played a second (for the senior team at least) in that role until a few weeks ago and now he’s the starter there (while Ilie is absent at least). He’s making the position his own too. He’s obviously got the playmaking skills (Andrea Pirlo comparisons...) but he’s working really hard.

Going into the game against Dallas he had averaged 7.3 miles per game of running, a league high since play returned. I’d previously questioned Busio because he seemed to not be giving full effort at times, but it was pointed out to me that he is just calm and not frantic and he’s positioning himself so well. I’m inclined to agree with that. Plus, he consistently won ball after ball in the midfield whether it was via interception or tackle.

Outside of his early yellow against the Houston Dynamo (which again I think was harsh and impacted his ability to go into challenges the rest of the match), Busio has looked very good in his new role. I look forward to more of it. Even when Ilie is back, does anyone want to take Busio off?

Side thought: If Ilie Sanchez returned to Europe because of the family issues keeping him out, I’d suspect he’ll be subject to a quarantine upon return and we may not see him for a while.

Jaylin Lindsey at Right Back

While we are handing out praise, let’s give some to Jaylin Lindsey. Not once did I think to myself (or more accurately yell at my TV screen) about Lindsey’s positioning, touches, etc. all night. It has a lot to do with him being in his natural right back position. He felt comfortable escaping to the sideline on his dominant foot and he just generally looked like he knew where he was supposed to be. Late in the game he was even pretending to be Zusi as he was in the box trying to slam a shot in to win it.

I doubt we get a chance to see him there again against Houston on Saturday (Graham Zusi has to start again, right Peter?) but it’d be interesting to see if the spacing was handled better. Alberth Elis and Nico Hansen chewed him up last time out. If you are going to play him this weekend, do it on the right side.

Squad Rotation Grade: A

I give Peter Vermes a lot of crap about the way he uses his squad. In the prior three matches since SKC returned they made no more than two changes from game to game despite playing those first three games in a nine day span.

On Wednesday, he made five. One new forward (Pulido to the bench), two new midfielders (though his hand was forced with Roger Espinoza injured and Gadi Kinda suspended) and two new defenders (Puncec and Martins). And it took some guts to play a midfield that young. Cameron Duke (19), Gianluca Busio (18) and Felipe Hernandez (22) all looked more than capable.

I won’t lie, I was nervous going in. I had flashbacks of the 6-0 drubbing Dallas laid on KC on Decision Day 2019. The opening goal did nothing to ease those concerns. But outside of that one mistake (ironically by older defenders), the team looked solid.

Substitution Usage: D-

Before it seems like it’s all praise, I have to crush Vermes on his subs. I’m fine with Matt Besler coming on at halftime. Besler had his best game in recent memory and did a great job of shutting Dallas down. If Winston Reid isn’t ready to start again, Besler showed he can handle it. I was a little shaky on Graham Smith being the defender subbed off. I thought he was better than Roberto Puncec in the first half, though it all worked out in the end. Dallas didn’t do much offensively in the second half and Besler played a sizable role in that.

The rest of the subbing was garbage. Let me explain.

PV often talks about the reason he doesn’t sub is because the team is in control of the game. Well last night, when he made a double sub in the 57th minute, they were dominating. Gerso Fernandes was giving the right side of the defense fits and Cameron Duke seemed to still have the legs and was doing fine. After the subs were made (Zusi for Duke, Daniel Salloi for Gerso) the rhythm of the game was broken. I didn’t hate either sub tactically, the timing was just off.

Then there would be no more subs until the 93rd minute! Despite playing very well, Johnny Russell was gassed at least from the 80th minute on (not that he didn’t still have moments). And Felipe Hernandez looked a bit out of gas too. One would assume PV made a sub at the half to save his three sub actions for the second half, but then he only used two. Kuzain was the only midfielder on the bench so obviously PV didn’t trust him to come on. But there is no reason you can’t go Erik Hurtado for Russell and push Shelton to the wing.

Side thought #2: Interestingly enough, Vermes had one bench spot available to him that he did not use. Pulido was given the night off, Espinoza was hurt (and I suspect Reid was given the night off as he wasn’t even on the bench — though Andreu Fontas was), Ilie is away and Kinda was suspended. I’d assume Tyler Freeman is not eligible to play without a quarantine since he’s been with SKC II. There was literally no one left.

Back to the point. It’s not clear that subs would have changed the game, but the tired legs surely left players a step (or more) too slow to get to where they needed to be.

Let’s Talk about the Goal

You can’t get negative without talking about the goal SKC gave up. It was a group effort too. First, Tim Melia plays a sideways ball to Puncec, who is under pressure. He plays another soft ball to a returning Luis Martins who, also under pressure, dangerously passes the ball back towards Puncec in the middle of the field before the interception leads to the goal.

All three players had a chance to do what this team often refuses to do — CLEAR THE BALL LONG! Just lump it up the field. When the high press is that tight, sometimes it’s best to live to fight another day. I know it’s been said these things will happen when you want to play possession, but it was correctly pointed out that KC got away with this just a few minutes earlier and it should have been a wake up call.

For me, you cannot stick to your style 100% of the time. It’s too predictable. Not to mention you have burners in Shelton and Gerso up the field and a long clearance could even create a chance and catch the other team off guard since they are expecting KC to play possession. Even if the ball just goes out of bounds, the defense can reset and get into position and you don’t give up a soft goal. It turned out to be the difference between one and three points.

Finishing Chances

For the prior three games, Sporting KC trailed their opponent in expected goals (xG). Despite that, they went 1-1-1. Not the worst results when you aren’t creating chances. On Wednesday, SKC returned to form and dominated the xG stat.

Looking at the above chart shows xG over the coarse of the game. Dallas has two good chances. The Franco Jara goal and an inexplicable mistake when they were two on one and missed a simple square ball that would have been a tap in (three chances if you count that Michael Barrio shot that Melia blocks point blank).

Sporting had many good chances. Ironically they finished a relatively tough chance and missed some real golden opportunities. All credit to Dallas who blocked most of their good chances (14 of 22 attempts were blocked). But that partially comes from not hitting some of the chances first time. Russell probably had two of the best chances, both taken first time and both blocked. On the doorstep late and the ball that it looked like he sailed over the bar early but in fact was deflected.

Sporting Kansas City have to get back to their goal scoring ways if they want to pick up some wins.

They still have the second most goals in MLS (behind only Los Angeles Football Club) but they also have played a game more than most teams and seven of their 19 goals came in the first two games.

What stood out to you from the game? Join us in the comments to continue the discussion.