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TBTs “In the Box”: Sporting Kansas City’s Floor raisers

You got to wipe the floor to reach the ceiling.

SOCCER: NOV 22 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Round One - San Jose at Sporting KC Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“In the Box” is a dynamic Kansas City soccer column on The Blue Testament dropping news, fun, thoughts (and sometimes musings on life) most Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays by @spkclife and the TBT staff. Participation in the discussions via comment(s) are strongly encouraged.

“There’s been some hard feelings here

About some words that were said.” Paul Simon, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”

This second “In the Box” entry was going to be about something else: “MLS Cup: The sweetest sip?” But that will come later.

I read @MattDoyle76’s “Armchair Analyst” today entitled “Each team’s most important player for 2021 season.” I know he is not every Sporting Kansas City fan’s favorite (your ceiling or floor maybe?). However, he got me thinking.

I mostly agree with him that Sporting’s most important player is newly acquired French center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin. It could more so be a healthy Alan Pulido or a Gianluca Busio who raises his game to an actual #10 level or it could be the other new French arrival, Remi Walter, who could complete the midfield by adding bite and a stronger defensive presence (any attacking verve being a bonus).

Doyle states that Isimat-Mirin can raise Sporting’s ceiling by raising those around him and making Kansas City a “true contender.”

But one cannot reach the ceiling without a firm floor from which to spring. And, to get a bit surreal, the higher the floor, the easier the reach to the ceiling.

Yes, Isimat-Mirin is no sure thing. Yet his pedigree is to be respected. Yes, the left-wing talent – Khiry Shelton, Gianluca Busio… maybe, and Daniel Salloi – is not going to scare anyone (Unless perhaps Busio becomes the left winger and goes Kevin Molino on everyone.). But it will be a functional foundation, a complementary piece to Pulido and Johnny Russell on the right and a strong attacking midfield.

Now entering the room are Luis Martins, Amadou Dia, Jaylin Lindsey, and Graham Zusi. These four wing backs (Martins and Dia on the left, Lindsey and Zusi on the right) have had some “hard” words thrown their way over the last few seasons. Some praise too. But they are the most important pieces on this team. Because they can do the most to raise the floor of an often permeable membrane of a defense that became a sieve in the playoffs, allowing three goals in each contest.

A longtime soccer coaching friend of mine used to shake his Welsh head and say how crazy it was that Sporting’s 4-3-3 system was so dependent on the performance of the wing backs, and that they had such poor wing backs. Remember Marcel de Jong, Igor Juliao, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Cristian Lobato, Nicolas Hasler?

Martins and Co. are asked to do so much. They must decide when it is best to support the attack and provide important width for the attack. They are tasked with combining well with the midfielders and outside forwards and often serving in precise crosses into the box. Conversely, they must always read the developing play accurately to be in a strong defensive position to subdue or eliminate counterattacks as soon as humanly possible so the flanks in their own end are not exposed and the center backs pulled out to defend. Those are just part of their critical role.

If the wing backs can raise Sporting’s floor, less will be required of the center backs. The more secure Sporting’s defense will be. And the more likely Sporting’s floor is not an early playoff ouster, but a floor that is much more near the ceiling to reach MLS Cup.

Ironically, even Paul Simon revamped the original “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor” to better effect.