Sporting Kansas City opened their home account with a shaky but ultimately effective win against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday afternoon. There are lots of things to talk about this game so let's dive right in.
A Much More Stable Midfield
After the game last week I mentioned that I would be surprised to see Jose Mauri get a run out because of the lack of effort and him being only allowed to stay on the field for a little over 20 minutes. I did not expect however that SKC would promptly cut him from the team. Thus we got to see Remi Walter at the #6 (defensive-midfielder) and he played the position with both discipline and an ability to get forward with the ball that was excellent. That ultimately led to him getting a really clean strike (and one very unclean one) through traffic that would win SKC the game.
It will be interesting to see if Remi can replicate it against a team that actually wants to pressure the ball a bit more than Houston who until his goal applied basically no pressure to our backline or Remi. It's also worth noting that Peter Vermes’ emphasized that “...we knew that [Remi’s] an eight/six, not a six/eight” in the post-game presser. That quote and others like it in the past seem to indicate that PV does not see him as a #6 in his system. So I would be cautious about thinking we will see Remi lock this spot down.
Felipe Hernandez took Remi’s spot as more of attacking #8 (box-to-box midfielder) and offered excellent pace and bite defensively. In the pre-season, I pondered if Felipe could officially become Roger Espinoza’s heir apparent and with every time he is out, I am more and more confident he can. The one key difference that he has from Roger is the way he plays almost interchangeably with the forward in front of him when SKC has the ball in the final third.
Don't believe me? check out this screenshot from the excellent stats page at MLSSoccer.com.
See Salloi (#20) on there? nope, not really because he is buried under Hernandez (#21). They were constantly playing underneath each other and trying to pull the defensive out of position. In general, I loved the play but it does come with a cost. Namely that Felipe is not able to recycle the ball from that position as he would be able to in a more traditional midfield position.
This may be why we saw Espinoza play a pretty conservative and somewhat uninteresting game. As the Talkin’ Touches guys used to say “soccer is dominos,” meaning every action a player takes on the field is going to cause the players around them to adjust... which is going to cause other players to adjust... and so on.
The one other thought about the midfield leads me to my next point...
...Should Those Subs Be Starting?
Let’s start with Cameron Duke who came on for Hernandez in the 82nd minute, which in and of itself is a bit weird. Roger was looking pretty exhausted to my eyes while Felipe was still making runs all over the field. In any case, Duke looked good for the ten or so minutes he was on, drawing a yellow with his speed and causing problems for the Houston backline. I really want to see Duke start the game with Felipe because I think they could be very dynamic in the attack together. In the worst case you sub one of them at halftime for Roger.. JK I can't keep a straight face saying that PV would do an early tactical sub.
As for the other sub (don't even get me started on there only being two as compared to Houston’s five) Marinos Tzionis looked surprisingly electric in his 15-minute appearance. He showed a good bit of skill in deft dribbles that forced Houston into a yellow-card tackle. Which leads me to wonder... should he just be starting?
Our starting “center-forward” Khiry Shelton took exactly zero (!?!?!) shots and routinely disappeared from the game. In case you were wondering Khiry only took two against Atlanta last week and none of those were on target. It is telling that at one point in the second half Roger chose to pass to Johnny when Khiry was in a much better position running towards the goal versus Johnny who was making a good but far less dangerous run.
That is a problem and I want to see PV at least try to solve it by running out some of the other options, it does not even have to be Tzionis. Hell put Duke as a false 9, let's just experiment because what we are doing is not sustainable. This also lets you bring in Khiry as a super-sub at any of the front three spots which would be great for closing out games.
One Bad Pass Is All It Takes
Stop me if you have heard this before, SKC looked firmly in control of the game but a bad pass in the defensive third led to a good chance for the opposition. A constant complaint (by me at least) of the current iteration of SKC is that they get trapped in the back as they often refuse to adjust from a play-out-of-the-back style to a clear-it-forward defense when they are trying to protect a lead. I would be very curious if this is a coached behavior or a limitation of the players not recognizing the moment when they need to switch. In any case, when trying to play out of the back when the other team is pressing, you open yourself to several possible bad outcomes:
- A bad pass is intercepted and the keeper is out of position. What happened in this case.
- The keeper is in position but the players in front of him are out of position because they were moving in a way to either hold the ball or provide a passing lane for the player currently in possession. What I would argue we see most often from SKC.
- In either case, if the opposition is pressing they likely have either numerical equivalency or a numerical advantage in terms of players moving towards your goal. Which drastically increases the chance of there being an open opponent in the box.
A logical conclusion of a team pressing like this however is that it means their players are not further upfield which means your forwards should have space to try to bring down the ball and hold up the play if you hoof it forward.
The team overall looked much improved from last week, but I am not certain we win this game if Houston has the quality that Atlanta did last week. Hopefully, we continue to see week-over-week improvement and the team can figure something out at center-forward. Until next time, GO SPORTING!