Sporting Kansas City continued their road trip with a stop in the smoky Rocky Mountains (Espinoza: “you could feel the smoke”) against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night. The team managed to pull off a road point with a unique and heavily rotated lineup, a brand new formation, at altitude in a low air quality game. Let’s get to the highlights.
It’s up for debate what formation Sporting KC were actually in, but I’m going to call it a 5-3-2. A backline of Jaylin Lindsey, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Andreu Fontas, Roberto Puncec and Amadou Dia (right to left). Then a midfield of Remi Walter, Roger Espinoza and Gadi Kinda with a frontline of Wilson Harris and Grayson Barber.
In possession, it more resembled a 3-5-2 with both fullbacks getting more into the attack. Plus, at times, Fontas would drift forward like he was the holding midfielder (though he was in a back three in possession lots of the time still). The wild thing is that apparently it was a decision made that day! In the post-game press conference, Peter Vermes said the team didn’t even practice it. That would explain it’s funky shape at times. Walter would drift super wide. Dia would be too far up the field for a team clearly coming in with the intention to play defensive and get a point (perhaps this is why he was subbed off). Barber would be back in the midfield a decent amount (I initially thought it was a 5-4-1).
The main thing this tells me is that Sporting KC are going for it on Tuesday in the Leagues Cup against Leon. They heavily rotated their lineup and rested players knowing they’d only have two days in between games. For his part, in the post-game presser, Vermes said the team was really banged up and they just didn’t know who was available until day of and the Leagues Cup didn’t impact their lineup.
- Roberto Puncec really struggled in his 45 minutes of action. He got a super early yellow card trying to deal with the pacey Michael Barrios. Honestly, Robin Fraser made a tactical error moving Barrios off of him. He consistently torched the left side of the SKC defense in the opening 30 minutes or so and then he put him on Isi who handled him very well.
- It was an admiral first team debut for Homegrown Grayson Barber. The team clearly set out to play a defensive game but he gave Rapids fans a few scares as he got in deep against their defense. Unfortunately, his finishing wasn’t great. I think on his first shot he should slot the ball back through to Harris who would have a better angle. On the second one I’m okay with the shot but you’ve got to at least test the keeper. He’ll get better. I’d love to see him consistently play with SKC II. He only has six appearances (all starts) and 454 minutes, even though their season is already past the midpoint.
Grayson Barber on his first start and his MLS debut with #SportingKC: "It was great. It was a great experience. ... I felt like I was in it from the second I got on the field." pic.twitter.com/WciVfWq3FI— Bally Sports Kansas City (@BallySportsKC) August 8, 2021
- The team confirmed that Daniel Salloi wasn’t on the bench just so he’d get rest. Nothing to worry about people! If he’s missing Tuesday, I’ll assume he’s in Europe.
- I watched the Colorado broadcast and I have to say, the announcers were very balanced. They didn’t come across as homers and they seemed to call the match very fair. I’ll take it. (Also, you can hear them in the highlight video to get a sampling).
- While I’m handing out half-hearted compliments, let’s talk officiating. I’ve had some harsh words for officials in recent weeks, but Ted Unkel was consistent. Sure, he missed some calls (which happens literally every game). But I didn’t think he made any horrific mistakes and he called the game evenly in both directions. Consistency... it’s my main request in a match official.
- We’ve been wondering for a while who is Daniel Salloi’s backup. Cam Duke got a chance at it on Saturday when he subbed on to start the second half. First, good to see him back from injury. He didn’t have his best game. It’s tough when you don’t have much possession and I’m okay if he needs a run out there again, but he definitely seemed more comfortable in the middle of the field in prior games.
- Oh Isi! After the game it was confirmed that Isimat-Mirin injured his left hamstring (to end the press conference PV said he was thinking of subbing him out, which kind of contradicts what he said about Russell — see below). It was his fifth straight start and third game in eight days. He’s proven so far he isn’t durable enough for that, having previously hurt his right hamstring and missed months. I’d assume Ilie Sanchez steps back in, but how long before Fontas is in the same situation? He plays every game and it has to be a concern at some point.
- Isi’s injury also is the reason we didn’t see Johnny Russell according to PV. He planned to make that sub but then Kaveh Rad had to replaced Nicolas and that changed things up. Rad played admirably for what it’s worth. I’d have never guessed a healthy Johnny Russell would miss back-to-back games. Maybe preparing for a future where he isn’t on the team? He’s out of contract after 2021. I had multiple people Tweet at me from the Roaddron that Russell was on the bench and not warming up with his teammates.
- The Rapids hadn’t been shut out at home since October 6, 2018. That’s a span of 32 games! Sporting are just going on the road and doing things to teams (see: LAFC, Seattle Sounders) that no one else can do. If the duct tape can hold this team together, there could be something there.
- Did anyone else notice on the buildup to the Alan Pulido near miss, that Gadi Kinda could have made a much easier pass to Barber? Probably because of their lack of chemistry (or his misses earlier in the night). But Kinda makes a delightful pass to setup Pulido who almost steals all three points on the road.
- It almost doesn’t need to be said but Tim Melia was just soooo good. He gets a foot on that wide open shot from Jonathan Lewis (even if the refs missed it). He had a bunch of big stops (Rubio, Abubakar, Price) and was just his regular, magical self. He said they came to get a point and they got it done.
Tim Melia after his third shutout of the season: "We knew we were going to have to play a different type of game here. ... We came here with a purpose of leaving with a point. Not just myself but everyone should be proud of the way we played tonight." #SportingKC pic.twitter.com/2HxGVm3z6I— Bally Sports Kansas City (@BallySportsKC) August 8, 2021