Week four of the season is in the bag, and things do not seem right. I think Chad Smith is correct in his argument that it is not time to panic about Sporting Kansas City yet. So you will have to forgive me if my thoughts are relatively panic free. In any case, there are certainly some things that stood out to me on Saturday’s loss to the Chicago Fire, so let’s dive in.
How do we judge results?
This question popped into my mind after the match. It stuck with me throughout the next day, and I think I have my grading rubric at this point.
Did we get three points?
Your regular-season record is determined by picking up points. Which in turn affects playoffs entry, playoffs location, and CONCACAF Champions League entry. So it is hard to argue that getting three points is not the most important thing. SKC indeed failed at this on Saturday (and most of the other games this season)... but it is not the only thing that matters.
How did it make you feel?
Ultimately we watch soccer because of the feelings it gives us. Maybe you are inspired by the athleticism, or perhaps it is the city pride. But the reality is SKC playing inspired soccer or performing poorly likely has a minor practical impact on your life (unless you work for the club/venue). However, it can have a pretty significant felt impact. The game on Saturday I actually felt pretty decent about. I saw a team missing all their attacking starters go out and make a game of it! And I also felt good because of what we learned.
What did we learn?
Your team needs to evolve, both in-season and across seasons. One of the key ways you do that is by testing out fringe players and moving them towards regular starts if they can keep up. I saw many fringe players looking more and more like consistent starters out there on Saturday. On top of that, we learned some things (not all good things) about the new formation that Peter decided to run out.
All this is to say, Saturday’s loss was a middle-of-the-road experience for me. KC dropped points which sucked, but I felt good about the performance, and I feel like SKC learned a lot. So there you have it, my subjective and squishy rubric for judging results.
How did Zusi stay on the field?
I was shocked to watch Graham Zusi plunge into a tackle in the 57th minute that was hard, late, and broke up attacking momentum. I was specifically shocked because Zusi was already on a yellow card from dissent a mere four minutes earlier. I think if Zusi is not already on a yellow, that tackle in the 57’ is a yellow all day. Frankly, I think he should have been sent off. I guess the ref was still feeling bad about the soft PK call from earlier in the game and gave Zusi a mercy pass on this one. But I, for one, do not like refs trying to “even things out” since they are usually pretty bad at it.
Comparing the homegrowns
Both Cam Duke and Felipe Hernandez went out and played some strong games on Saturday (and for most of the season so far). They share some similar skills, and they also have a few differences. I would look at them like this:
- Workrate: High (shared)
These guys go out there and work their butts off for as long as they are on the fields. It is very refreshing and welcome on a team of many older players who are a wee bit more conservative with their efforts.
- First Touch/Dribbling: Duke (High), Hernandez (Mid to low)
This is where Duke starts to pull away from Hernandez as an attacker. His touch is silky, and he loves to use that plus his pace to take on defenders. Hernandez has struggled with this a bit more. It was pronounced last game where he struggled to receive the ball fast enough to find the next pass. Instead, he would usually have to play it back to the center-backs.
- Tackling: Duke (Mid), Hernandez (Somehow both high and low)
Duke is decent at tackling. He makes a reasonable effort but can be a little ineffective at winning the ball cleanly. On the other hand, Hernandez tends to win the ball cleanly when he goes for the tackle... but dangggg he can be slow at recognizing where he needs to be to do that. I watched him fail to recognize the correct position to make the tackle many times on Saturday.
This team desperately needs its forward line healthy and present to build up some steam and chemistry. Let us hope all those “knocks” are not the secretly season-ending kind for any of the guys. I expect to see a more normal lineup and formation for the upcoming game. Then if we lose, I can feel terrible about it.