“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.
Last week, I was talking with an elderly client whose birthday was the day before. I asked him if someone had treated him right on his special day. His wife had, he stated. Then, after a perfect pause, Dan deadpanned, “It was about damn time!”
Spot on, Dan! It has been exactly four months to the day since Sporting Kansas City fans saw their side play a match. Wait no more. Fans will get their first look at the 2021 team today when they take on the LA Galaxy at 2:00pm Central time in Tucson, Arizona. Check here for how you can watch the action.
So what might we see – or hope to see – today? 4-3-21 (Yep. Look at that again. Kinda scary, eh?)… here we go…
New blood answering needs…
Sporting manager Peter Vermes hinted at adding a player on each line in the offseason. Two out of three ain’t bad.
Fans should get a good 60-minute look at new midfielder Remi Walter. He has played mostly as one of the duel #8s thus far. No matter where he lines up, will he add some “bottle”, some physicality, in the midfield? Will he ramp up the midfield’s ability to press-cover-press effectively? Mostly, is he moving toward instinctively meshing with whomever he partners with in the critical three-man midfield and all over the field?
See later regarding Nicolas Isimat-Mirin’s addition on the backline.
I mean new blood…
19. That is the average age of the three out-field players brought into the side (excluding Walter and Isimat-Mirin) most recently: forwards Ozzie Cisneros and Wilson Harris and midfielder Grayson Barber.
Harris has been peeking interest with four goals thus far playing the #9. He seems to be a natural finisher. It’s been a bit of a tease… Sporting creates an abundance of chances and half-chances and will need a strong backup if Alan Pulido goes down with an injury or is away with the Mexico National Team. If Harris starts, playing an MLS side near the end of preseason will be a good gauge for the 21-year-old. Can he handle MLS backs? Is he at least a decent facilitator, the factor that makes Pulido elite?
Cisneros and Barber may only see the pitch for the last 30 or less, but will we see what Vermes and Co. see in them? If you want to be particular, keep your eyes on Barber.
Vermes has been his expected nondescript self on this topic: The boys have been training to tighten up the defense. But, hey, at least we know something is being done on the tactical front. Winger Johnny Russell has more details within this article.
Look close to see how the team springs “traps” for the opponent. The idea sounds a bit naïve. Odds are it is a multi-leveled effort, however.
Busio the string puller…
Gianluca (can’t not say that name, right?) took on the #10 this season. Though it is a bit of a misnomer in Sporting’s 4-3-3, a player who can provide consistent through balls, pull off magic in combination in tight spaces, and provide some individual “Wow” can lift a team in key moments and matches. Sporting needs a playmaker. According to veteran Graham Zusi, Busio has lifted his game noticeably. We shall see… I hope!
At the back…
Guess who's out of his arrival quarantine!— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) March 27, 2021
Welcome to the club, Isi! @nicoisimat pic.twitter.com/oS4USZxs1A
Welcome, Mr. Isimat-Mirin. We, ummm, need you to be, well, a lot of things for us: athletic (very…), a strong reader of the game, a good passer and tackler, a team-first guy, dominant in the air, and, yah, well, just that… dominant, like really. (I thought a “savior” would be a bit much.) No, I jest. But, yah, basically.
In all seriousness, Isimat-Mirin can solve years of struggle at the back. We may not get much of a look or any today. But don’t be surprised if Vermes gives him a 20-minute run out.
What I truly want to see is progress from the wing backs. Consistency in defending strong is the first step.
A cohesive unit…
The whole point of preseason is to integrate new pieces with the established and to get everyone on the same page. The degree of that on display today will be an indicator of things to come. The importance of the first three matches is enhanced this season. But a strong start is never a bad thing.
With the injection of new and new blood up and down the roster (It is one of the youngest rosters Sporting has had in years), the potential for this team to be a new team is there. Furthermore, new blood and new or refined tactics can bring out new or latent traits in even veterans. After all, we all learn from each other and often learn the most when we teach others.
Me, I am a visual learner. Today, I hope to see.
The preseason match will be the last against MLS competition for Kansas City. They will return to Kansas City for two weeks of training in the lead up to the season opener at New York Red Bulls on April 17. Then the long awaited home opener will be here April 23 versus Orlando City.