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Four Observations from Sporting KC’s Preseason match against Phoenix Rising

From defensive growing pains to a possible MVP candidate, we take a look at Kansas City’s next to last preseason game.

Los Angeles FC v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The following is a guest post by Josh Wallace, known as SKCenthusiast in our comments.

Despite Sporting Kansas City’s tough 2-1 loss to Phoenix Rising, there were certainly some bright spots to take away from the match. Daniel Salloi, Cam Duke, Kayden Pierre and Logan Ndengbe all were bright spots in what was an overall solid showing from Sporting. Here are four observations (and some projections) from Saturday’s match up.

Our defense was..….meh….

Defensively we looked solid but still a little shaky. It was far too easy for Phoenix Rising to get in behind on the counter. They end up with a couple chances that, if they were more clinical, would have and should have been goals. While we shouldn’t be too alarmed given this is just a preseason match, there’s something concerning about SKC getting beat on the counter consistently by a team that they are just better than.

Even more concerning is the fact that this trend often continues into the regular season and post-season. I need not remind anyone about Anderson Julio of Real Salt Lake cooking Sporting (though mostly Luis Martins) on the counter in the playoffs. Is this just the give and take of SKC’s playing style? Or is it indicative of a bigger problem? For now, I’ll chalk this up to preseason rust as I’m sure were getting back to full fitness and integrating new players.

Salloi for MVP?

That might be a stretch right now, but Daniel Salloi looks to be in mid-season form. He was all over the place. On several occasions he was winning the ball back, dancing around players and getting into dangerous spots. He also scored Sporting KC’s lone goal after a great ball from Ndengbe and a clinical finish. Last season seems to have motivated Salloi to maintain that form and given he’s in the last year of his contract he could try to play his way right onto a European club or a new contract with SKC. Let’s hope for the latter. Either way, this looks to be another great season for him.

Cameron Duke…..Starter?

Cam Duke got his second start of the preseason (the other being against Colorado) and he certainly seemed to back Peter Vermes comments that he had “a little bit of a jump.” Duke looked like he “fit in” with the first team this match, pressing and recovering the ball, making good runs and drawing fouls. His touch looks a bit tighter too.

He missed two great chances on goal, but for him to even put himself in spots to get chances is a plus. Trust me, those chances weren’t just a coincidence, they are now a trend. Duke has three MLS-ready qualities in his game: (1) his pace, (2) his dribbling ability/elusiveness (he ranked in the 86 percentile in dribbling at his position last year according to FBref) and (3) his off ball movement.

Though some might consider the first two his best qualities, I’d argue his off ball movement is his best quality right now. Last season, Duke scored three goals, and all three came from off-ball runs toward the goal. His two chances Saturday night were a direct result of his off-ball movement, the only difference is he didn’t put his chances away. Duke just knows where the ball is and always seems to make timely runs to get high percentage shots on goal. Something tells me this year is going to be a big year for him.

The new future at right back

Kayden Pierre really stuck out for me from the second team. For the little under 30 minutes that he got to play, you can immediately see he’s been working on his game. Namely, his touch and ball control have made some vast improvements. On one occasion he took a cross field long ball out of the air with beautiful deft touch. Every dribble he had was close to his body, rarely did you see him take multiple touches as he often did last season with SKC II.

He was also very solid defensively. For instance, after some great interplay by Pierre, Ozzie Cisneros loses the ball and Pierre is caught up field with a Phoenix Rising winger dribbling down the flank. Pierre uses his pace to get in front him of him and easily stops the counter-attack.

Outside of his defensive work he was probably the biggest attacking threat the second team had. He did a great job overlapping and had two great “pass and go” moves that put the second team in good spots including one on the final play that just got a little far from Cisneros. This could be a huge year for Kayden Pierre.

Graham Zusi seems to be the entrenched starter, but he’s 35 and certainly not getting any younger, or faster. It says something about the confidence he has in Kayden Pierre that Peter Vermes did not go out and find another backup to Zusi. It seems inevitable that with a tight MLS schedule, Pierre will get some spot starts with the first team. Ultimately what he does with those opportunities will determine whether we finally see someone unseat the immortal Graham Zusi at right back, or we see Zusi comeback as a starter next year. Don’t get me wrong Zusi is a legend and hero for Sporting KC and had a great season in 2021, but its time for another one of our right backs to snatch at their opportunity. We will see if, in 2022, Kayden Pierre is that guy.