First off, Sporting KC is Back!
Yes, Sporting Kansas City lost. Yes, it was not super pretty... but they played a game! And I for one am here for it. I love watching this team play even when they play less than lovely soccer. Now we can dig into some things that stuck out to me about this game.
The Kids Are (Mostly) Alright
This game started with 22-year-old Logan Nbende playing at left-back and he acquitted himself well. As a defender, I believe you should be judged first by your defensive tidiness and second by your offensive contribution. He did not make any significant errors that I can remember and showed some flashes of being a real contributor in the final third.
An example of him getting forward successfully was in the 11th minute where his deft touch and pace forced Osvaldo Alonso to take him down for a yellow card lest he have a clear run towards goal. It would not end there as he was able to get to the end line and deliver a couple of dangerous balls later in the game. That said he was not without flaws, particularly he struggled to recognize Salloi’s runs on numerous occasions. I am hoping the latter is merely a product of lack of familiarity and that we see a better connection there soon.
Nbende was not the only young player to have a good game, as the 23-year-old Felipe Hernandez came on for Roger Espinoza and immediately made the midfield look more purposeful and threatening in possession. By my account, he should have gotten a secondary assist as well for playing a good corner into the box that Fontas flicked on to Salloi who cooly finished for SKC’s lone goal.
Finally, we saw a surprise (to me at least) appearance by the new 20-year-old signing Marinos Tzionis. While Tzionis did not have an as impactful sub appearance we still got to see some flashes of why he was brought in when he deftly dribbled through several ATL defenders late in the second half.
The Midfield Is (Mostly) Not Alright
For as positive as I felt about our young players, I was really bummed to see our midfield look utterly disjointed for most of the first half and the first 20 minutes of the second half. Uri Rosell got the start as the defensive midfielder and looked very timid with the ball. In stark contrast to Illie Sanchez or Gianluca Busio who primarily played the role last year, we saw shockingly few of the SKC bread and butter long diagonals from Rosell or Mauri who replaced him.
To be fair to Rosell, Roger Espinoza and Remi Walter were not doing him any favors in possession. Roger in particular was often completely absent as a passing option and seemingly was only really engaged when the ball turned over and he could try to win a tackle. Walter on the other hand struggled to connect even basic passes in the first 30 minutes of the game, however, he did grow into it as the game progressed.
After the half things did not look better with the midfield looking slow to pass and unwilling to push forward with the ball at their feet. Jose Mauri came on for the injured Rosell in the 50th minute and looked so listless that he barely was on the field for 25 minutes before Peter subbed him out for Tzionis.
All of this maybe could be forgiven if it were not for how much better the team looked when Hernandez came on and Russell dropped back into the midfield to give Tzionis more room to work. I expect we see either Duke or Hernandez from the start next week in Roger’s spot. I also doubt even if Rosell is not able to go that Mauri gets the start at d-mid.
Salloi Keeps Doing Salloi Things
Daniel Salloi is an odd sort of forward to me, he will go 85 minutes barely looking like he could strike anything, and then buries a cool-as-you-like volley. And that is sort of his specialty routinely outperforming his Expected Goals (Xg) because of routine excellent finishes. It's a very nice skillset to have on a team that really struggles with creating quality chances against a bunkered team.
But it might also explain his streakiness. Remember that he basically dropped off the radar between his breakout year in 2018 and 2021. He thrives on striking balls better than most others in this league but when that part of his game is off his deficiencies in other areas become quite glaring.
It's just one game, and for better or worse the first three months of MLS are basically irrelevant when it comes to predicting who will get into the playoffs so don't hit the panic button yet. I want to see this team at home and fully into the rhythm of the season to really get a sense of who they are this year. Hopefully, we see a more complete performance against Houston on Saturday.
Editor Update: Here are the highlights if you missed the game. For non-Nationally televised games, there should be replays in the SKC app for locals.