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Six Observations from Sporting KC II and North Texas SC

Sporting Kansas City II’s broadcast is much improved and a leader that the rest of MLS NEXT Pro should be following.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City II returned home after a tough loss to face North Texas SC (FC Dallas). That came came on the heels of the 2-2 draw between the first division sides on Saturday night.

Ultimately, SKC II wouldn’t get the job done, but the game was not without a bit of controversy and some observable moments. The full game replay isn’t available, but here are the early highlights from MLS NEXT Pro. The game featured three players from Sporting KC’s first team, with Jake Davis, Felipe Hernandez and John Pulskamp all starting. Kaveh Rad was on the bench, but went unused.

The Lineup

The team played their regular 4-3-3 but Davis was the defensive midfielder with Collin Fernandez and Felipe ahead of him. Julian Vazquez started at his regular left wing spot, with TJ Fatah on the right wing, Guy Michaeli at striker, Spencer Glass at LB, Jahon Rad at LCB, Easi Easley with his first start at RCB and Mikey Lenis at RB.

Davis playing d-mid didn’t really work out, as he was red carded and even before that he struggled to stay in that spot and got forward a bunch. At times I was thinking SKC II were in a double pivot with Felipe back there too, but the more I watched I was convinced he was just covering for Davis who is used to being an 8 and getting forward.

That Red Card was Harsh

Speaking of the red card, it seemed awfully harsh. Davis leaves his feet but realizes he’s not getting there so he’s neither straight legged or having his studs out. It’s definitely a yellow, and Davis seems to acknowledge that, but ultimately the ref gave a red (and a yellow for dissent to Felipe for protesting). Frankly, having watched the only angle that exists on a loop over and over, I’m not entirely convinced Davis doesn’t win the ball.

I think a yellow would be fine because it’s reckless, but that call changed the game. Despite having given up a counter-attack goal, SKC II dominated the first half and honestly, most of the game, despite the red coming in the 44th minute. SKC II were on the front foot most of the second half until they appeared to tire slightly and North Texas picked up their second goal.

SKC II played without a d-mid but continued to get forward the entire game. It was a matter of time that either they would score or NTX would get their second.

Speaking of Reds, Dallas Should have had Two

It’s not in the highlights, but there were two plays where Dallas could have easily lost a player. In the second half, Michaeli fouled Lucas Bartlett (a former SKC Academy player and 2022 Dallas draft pick) from behind. He kind of stumbles over him after the foul and Bartlett kicks out between the legs of Michaeli. He doesn’t make contact, but he sure tried. Both got yellows, but for the intent on the kick out (and the dangerous area he aimed at), should have been a red.

Then later in the second half, Hope Avayevu, who was already on a yellow, tackled Felipe Hernandez from behind and the ref called a foul. It was a dangerous challenge and Felipe was right outside the 18-yard-box counter attacking on the right side of the pitch. It should have been a second yellow and a sending off. Unfortunately the referees played a huge part in this game.

Fernandez Needs to Stop Taking the PKs

One call the ref appears to get right was when TJ Fatah was taken down in the box early in the game earning SKC II a penalty kick. Captain Collin Fernandez took what appeared to be a quality shot to the lower right corner but it was saved by Felipe Carneiro. It just didn’t have enough pace. That makes Fernandez 0/2 on PKs this year. It’s time to give someone else a chance as it would have completely changed the game state to be up early and on the attack.

Improved Camera

Sporting KC II seemed to have ditched the Spiideo (AI controlled) camera for a human. The camera would zoom in and mostly follow the ball. There was still just a single camera but it was night and day different from watching the zoomed out AI cam that can’t follow the ball and you can’t make out player numbers.

As was said in the comments here and in other places, a high school AV squad could do better than that AI camera and it showed through. There were still no replays, but hopefully that is next.

The Real Monarchs (Real Salt Lake) used a five camera setup and two-person commentary team this weekend in a test run for teams producing their own game. Hopefully SKC II will soon follow suit. I’m happy to come do commentary.

Stand Outs

Overall, Sporting KC II did control the game, despite being down a man. They ran endlessly and put North Texas under constant pressure. A few players stood out and are worth highlighting.

  • Julian Vazquez — There is a reason this kid keep starting at LW. He works tirelessly and he’s a threat out wide. Nothing quite came together in the end, but he was a thorn in Dallas’ side all night.
  • Mikey Lenis — He was both in the attack and working hard to get back in defense from his right back spot. He broke up several counters and if Kayden Pierre can’t play, he should be the RB (no more of Davis over here please).
  • Felipe Hernandez — He had a few mistakes in the game, but considering he subbed on and played on Saturday for the first team, you wouldn’t know it. He never slowed down and was in defense as much as he was in the attack.
  • Mataeo Bunbury — He was a second half sub but still impacted the game despite being down a man. If they had 11 players, I think he scores or assists and he was darn close even with 10 players.