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“In the Box”: Life lessons and Geographic theory with Sporting Kansas City

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2-1 win over LAFC continues Kansas City’s progression.

SOCCER: JUN 26 MLS - LAFC at Sporting Kansas City Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you played sports growing up (or are currently play), you know that the longer you played, the more you learned. About yourself. About life. If you had (or have) kids who played sports, you know how transformative sports were for your child (assuming a positive setting).

Sports are a source of discovery. There is no debating that. And self-discovery in sports and life never stops, even if one if just watching.

Geographic theory? Stay tuned…

Choose your battles (aka Risk management)

Kim Moon-Hwan’s goal that gave LAFC the lead in the 24th minute: GOAL: Kim Moon-Hwan, LAFC - 24th minute | MLSSoccer.com

It is a psychological fact, proven over time in experience and the eye test: It is more difficult to run back to defend than it is to attack. It must be a chemical/endorphins thing. Of course, the same is true for life: it is more difficult to motivate oneself when things are not in one’s favor. Thus, the importance of knowing what battles to choose.

In the unfolding of the actions that lead to LAFC’s goal on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park, Gianluca Busio chooses (yes, it is a choice, though aided by ball watching) not to stay with LAFC’s Jose Cifuentes as he runs down the inner left channel and eventually receives the interior pass that he turns into the assist.

Daniel Salloi makes the same choice early before the video begins, and even after he sees Moon-Hwan wide open. (Luis Martins makes the correct choice btw.)

Yes, it is difficult to make the tough, preventative choice because it goes against that most human of all nature’s to not act until fear or more obvious risk kicks in. But that is exactly the point. Risk is minimized by acting early. The reward of being “a hero” in a dire moment is high. But experience teaches minimizing risk by fighting the right battles is the much better solution and ultimately reduces the agony and stress life too often produces. (And it often eliminates that head-hanging in front of 20,000+ people.)

A similar scenario happens just seven minutes later when Martins, Busio (drawn to the ball again), and Felipe Hernandez allow Daniel Musovski to run unmarked for an LAFC chance after the visitors have played into the space behind an advanced Jaylin Lindsey.

Use your imagination (aka Believe in possibility)

Salloi toasts Tristan Blackmon for a match-changing moment: RED CARD: Tristan Blackmon, LAFC - 58th minute | MLSSoccer.com

Titans of industry, criminals who thrive, the inventors of the peanut M&M, the more successful athletes all often succeed (or succeeded) because they put their imagination to use. For Salloi, it may be somewhat instinctual, but his use of the big touch is what enables him to get past Blackmon and force Blackmon to resort to drastic measures. Imagination creates possibilities.

Believing in possibilities, imagining that something is possible, like the believing the ball will end up on his foot is partly what enables Alan Pulido to score the match-tying goal in the 61st minute on Saturday: GOAL: Alan Pulido, Sporting Kansas City - 61st minute | MLSSoccer.com

Believing, or knowing it is possible the ball may come to him, prompts Pulido to position himself where he does, which enables him to square up his body perfectly and wind up just enough for the killer shot. (Failing to prepare is...)

The BEatitudes: BE patient. BE proactive. BE positive.

In the 87th minute, something pretty sweet happens. The building blocks are the basic building blocks of a joyful life: Graham Zusi is patient on the right edge of LAFC’s box, not giving into panic, not forcing the issue; Busio and Hernandez are proactive in manipulating the defense, especially Hernandez as he positively goes right at the defense to engage it (watch Busio throw up his arms at Hernandez not shooting… it’s good for a chuckle); then Salloi believes as he takes his somewhat audacious shot first-time. The practices payoff in the release of great joy at the game-winner, just like in life. GOAL: Daniel Salloi, Sporting Kansas City - 87th minute | MLSSoccer.com

Through experiencing these life lessons and learning these best practices, players and people discover what they can do and who they truly are. Sporting Kansas City is progressing nicely through its journey of self-discovery.

Bonus lesson… my mother used to tell me, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

So Johnny Russell doesn’t need a sweet finish to get back on the scoring track (and then explode). How about a barrel roll through the box for a low cross? Whatever it takes!

Lastly… Geographic theory

In the last five full seasons (not including 2020), the top five clubs in average Western Conference finish that Sporting plays have been (in order): LAFC (only two seasons), Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas, Portland Timbers, and Los Angeles Galaxy.

Those clubs have certain things in common: strong cultures, strong leadership, upper-echelon talent, heightened expectations, and more pressure to succeed. As a result, the intensity ramps up when dueling with these clubs. Sporting’s match versus Portland Timbers on June 19 and Saturday’s match with LAFC felt different, the pace of the game was faster, the battles more heated. They seemed to mean more.

Those clubs also benefit from authentic rivalries with each other via the Cascadia Cup (Vancouver Whitecaps were #6 btw) and El Trafico.

Sporting’s geographic location means less matches with these sides, no true rivalry. A clash with Colorado Rapids or Houston Dynamo (post-2013) or Minnesota United (though they are on the way up) just doesn’t demand the same focus and intensity. And I think Sporting suffers as a team because of it. Yes, the COVID-tainted 2020 season where Kansas City played Houston like six times heightens the idea. But playing high-profile, culture-rich, consistently highly ambitious and highly competitive teams in a ramped-up environment raises your level. And perhaps the benefits these Pacific/Pacific Northwest teams (Portland and Seattle particularly) gain from this “geographical advantage” is the reason teams from that region have been MLS Cup finalists seven of the last seven years.

It is a theory.