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“In the Box”: Random wonderings on Sporting Kansas City. June edition

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Some things to ponder after last three matches, last three months.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Sporting Kansas City Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

First things first, a massive congratulations to The Blue Testament/Shades of Blue podcast friend Jimmy Nielsen for being inducted as a Sporting Legend Wednesday night. In related happenings… The irony of Sporting ending the match versus Colorado Rapids with six homegrowns on the pitch after a possible and a definite future Legend – Johnny Russell and Roger Espinoza – had been subbed off to get them some rest was not lost in the reflection on the night. And that leads to the first wondering.

How many of the six homegrowns on the field (or the 13 homegrowns currently on the roster) will be Sporting Legends one day?

With homegrowns being groomed to not only succeed as a professional with Sporting but to possibly be sold sooner than later, how many will stay with Kansas City long enough to become a Legend? The current eight Legends awarded the status mostly for their exploits as a player played in an average of 189 matches for the club. For comparison, Gianluca Busio has currently played in 59. Longevity, or loyalty, is a significant factor, right?

Can “freeing passes” be a stat?

“Key passes” are defined as passes that lead to the receiver taking a shot. As such, Andreu Fontas was credited with no key passes (whoscored.com) in Wednesday night’s 3-1 win over Colorado Rapids or last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Portland Timbers (3 in 1-1 draw with Austin the Saturday before at home). But here is the thing… the man makes terrific passes that penetrate, split, or pull out the defense throughout all matches he plays at left center back. Yes, he leads MLS in number of passes completed, but his passes are often more difficult in nature as well. Arguably, Fontas makes Sporting hum along more than anyone. “Decisive passes”??

What exactly is Nicolas Isimat-Mirin’s status?

The French center back acquired in the offseason is back in training (and off the injury list since the last Austin FC match) after suffering a hamstring injury in the second match of the season. But the preseason and early-season favorite to partner Andreu Fontas at center back has not made a game day roster since his return to health. The situation may just be a regular long recovery, players- showed-well-when-he-was-out, fighting-for-time, getting-fitness thing.

Does Ilie play too many long passes?

The stats show that Ilie played 50 long passes in the last three matches, 28 of them successfully. For comparison purposes, Fontas and goalkeeper Tim Melia have played 29 of 33 and 12 of 19 successfully respectively. (The biggest numbers of long passes attempted for all three came against Portland, not surprisingly.) Ilie’s numbers are significantly more, and statistically poorer. But stats are stats. The long ball stretches the opposition vertically and horizontally, keeps the defense honest and wary, and can create positive numbers situations. But it can be somewhat frustrating to see 44% of Ilie’s be unsuccessful.

Does everyone know Nate Bukaty sometimes wears sport coat, a tie, and… shorts for some broadcasts??

They are nice shorts… Snazzy from the waist up and staying cool. I like it, Nate! (I enjoyed our elevator chat. lol)

Does anyone miss Pulido’s blonde top?

It certainly is easier to quickly pick him out on the field when he dons the blonde.

Speaking of the prime time #9… Is Pulido consistently coming back for the ball a good thing?

Both of the following examples are from the Portland Timbers match. The Timbers did an excellent job of defending Sporting using a 4-4-2 with their four midfielders tucked in tightly to take away much of Fontas, Ilie, and Busio’s lanes. Thus, Pulido was forced to come back to receive the ball at feet (He isn’t going to win balls into space against athletic MLS backs much.).

Espn+

Of course, as Pulido gets the ball inside his own half, he is immediately harassed. Notice also that Portland is using a high line. One could argue Pulido has no choice to come back, here at least. Maybe.

Espn+

Above, though, Pulido picks up the ball in a similar area. Yet, there is no forward outlet to play off or combine with. With no depth or verticality to Sporting’s attack, Portland’s center back can do whatever he chooses. No options forward, and the options left are marked well. So if Pulido doesn’t see (and play) Jaylin Lindsey’s right wing run immediately, there are no quick, positive options in transition to catch the defense up field. The attack is doomed to a lesser opportunity or to die a quick death.

Are Portland’s tactics the way to play Sporting and quell their attack?

Well, Pulido and company still had enough chances to win the match.

To be honest though, I am not a big fan of the idea of pulling Pulido back to midfield late in a match when a goal is needed. Yes, one of Pulido’s strengths is to come into space for the ball. However, that is more effective when he starts from a high position than it is when he is languishing in midfield. Push Busio up the field more and keep Pulido near the goal, where he is needed the most in those moments. Could that mean subbing in a center back late in the match to release Ilie to the 6 so Busio can be a 10? Probably. What is wrong with that?

What are some of your wonderings? Thoughts about the above? Let’s see your thoughts below in the comments.