I’ve fallen victim. That is my excuse.
The last two “Pitch Pit” analyses have been victims of managers making changes to their starting lineups. Thus, the two opposing players chosen have not even played in the match, let alone battled a Sporting Kansas City player head-to-head. Positionally, however, the battles ensued.
So, due to lack of time this week and a desire to stop the trend, this week’s most important battle chosen for today’s Sporting Kansas City v Los Angeles Futbol Club match at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium is actually in the pits, the trenches – the midfield. Kickoff is slated for 3:08pm on ESPN. Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes is out of excuses for his side. It is time to turn the tide. At LAFC may not be the match though.
Last week, Kansas City (2-5) dropped its first home match in a 2-1 loss to Nashville SC. LAFC dropped its first game of the season, a 2-1 lost at LA Galaxy (4-1-1) in El Trafico. The Galaxy hit LAFC with 57 long balls, often attacking from left flank, and put away their chances.
LAFC’s three-man midfield in a 4-3-3 is likely to be what is has been a vast majority of the season: Kelyn Acosta, Jose Cifuentes, and former Sporting metronome Ilie Sanchez v Sporting’s 4-3-3 midfield of Remi Walter, Roger Espinoza, and Cam Duke. Or Uri Rosell, Remi Walter, and Felipe Hernandez. Or any of the above with Walter playing the #6, or the #8.
Primetime U.S. National Team midfielder Acosta is a better player than any of Sporting’s so-far-in-2022 pick’em-smorgasbord-midfield-three, and Ilie is a better on the ball than any of Sporting’s midfielders. Sporting’s best tactic may be that of the Galaxy’s, or that of their own tactic v Vancouver Whitecaps in the 2021 playoffs – play long balls to width (mostly right to left, from right back Graham Zusi to left winger Daniel Salloi and left back Ben Sweat (or Logan Ndenbe)) to mostly bypass the midfield and attack the same side on which the Galaxy found joy.
Salloi and company can create as a unit, yet both LAG goals against LAFC came from balls to the far post. But that means right winger Johnny Russell and striker Khiry Shelton (or Nikola Vujnovic) will have to play Chicharito to emulate the Galaxy’s success. That is certainly not a prerequisite to success.
The other issue is that LAFC presses high and hard. Sporting has not been… smooth… at moving the ball out of a high press. If Sporting’s midfielders can find gaps in the midfield (Ilie is still not the best defender or a tireless worker) to give easy outlets for the backline and goalkeeper Tim Melia, they could get Russell and Salloi and Duke/Hernandez and Shelton/Vujnovic on the break.
All things considered, Sporting’s midfield and its inconsistencies do not match well with LAFC’s midfield and its constant quality. The less each midfield is on the ball, the better for Sporting Kansas City. This one will be won on the flanks. And whoever plays left back for Kansas City better take care of LAFC’s sometimes still brilliant Carlos Vela.
Additionally, if Sporting plays a false #9 and that player can be strong and quick on the ball to combine and get Sporting’s #8/10 and wingers Salloi and Russell on the run at Sanchez (or bypass him like a cone) and LAFC’s backs, Sporting could pull out a win.
But, damn, that ^^^^ is a lot of work to do.