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Five Observations from Sporting KC’s 4-2 US Open Cup Victory

FC Dallas are stunningly totally defeated against Sporting Kansas City in the US Open Cup.

MLS: US Open Cup-FC Dallas at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, life burst back into Sporting Kansas City soccer. After a troubling 0-2 start, the team turned it around with the latest goal in regulation in SKC history to tie it, send it to extra time, and ultimately win and advance. Before Sporting KC can resume their Lamar Hunt US Open Cup run or continue their regular season, let’s look back at some stand out moments and things that can be taken away from the victory over FC Dallas.

Maybe We Know Why Tzionis is Not Starting

Marinos Tzionis played well. Really well. He scored a wild goal to end regulation.

It’s not based on anything we were actively seeing on the field but in the post-game presser we may have found out why Tzionis isn’t a starter. Peter Vermes was plenty complementary, but he snuck in a quip. I asked him about the contributions of Tzionis and Nikola Vujnovic, both who scored their first goals for the team.

“Look, I think the goals were good,” began Vermes. “There was some good play in there. Again, we’ve got to keep getting better. It was good, it was good. For Marinos to be able to go as long as he did with not having played the full 90 minutes on a regular basis for us is good. I know he was struggling but, he seems to like to run when he has the ball. When he doesn’t have the ball, there is not much running going on, that has to change.” (emphasis mine)

Vermes was grinning when he said the last part, but that is probably his truth. PV wants players to play a certain way and for all the razzle dazzle of Tzionis, maybe we are missing what PV is seeing. Or not seeing. It sounds like he wants more off the ball movement from Tzionis. Now if that’s something like what Daniel Salloi does leading the league in attacking runs or if it’s about defensive work rate, it wasn’t clear. But I think we have our answer.

Hernandez to Defensive Midfielder?

When the lineup was put out, it wasn’t immediately clear what formation the team was in. I speculated on Twitter that maybe it’d be dual defensive midfielders of Felipe Hernandez and Jake Davis, who played next to each other with SKC II against Dallas’ MLS NEXT Pro team, North Texas SC. It didn’t work great against NTX, but it felt like a trial run for this Open Cup clash.

In the MLSNP game, Davis was red carded. Fairly early on against FC Dallas, he picked up a yellow card. However, once Sporting gave up the second goal, the team made a tactical adjustment to get more offensive and move into their 4-3-3. As a part of that adjustment, Davis moved to the #8 where he is more comfortable and Hernandez moved to the #6.

Now, it could have been game state in that Dallas didn’t need to go forward as much, but Hernandez looked very good in the d-mid spot. Uri Rosell has been less than impressive and Felipe seems like a player who should be getting more minutes. I’m not sure after doing 120 minutes he’ll be ready to go on turf against the Portland Timbers on Saturday, but it’s something to consider. PV agrees, saying he thought Hernandez played “his best game since he’s come back this year,” though he was non-committal on seeing him in that position on the pitch again.

Vermes Takes the Blame

Speaking of the formation change, Peter accepted responsibility for putting them in the wrong formation (3-5-2 or 5-3-2, whatever you want to call it). “[The] first half was my fault,” said Vermes. “Just because I think we weren’t prepared to play in the system we put together. We just didn’t feel comfortable.”

As my colleague Cody Bradley pointed out on Shades of Blue: After Dark, it’s also a bit of a humble brag because that implies that PV helped fix it too. Even though the subsequent change into the 4-3-3 included SKC II left back Spencer Glass playing right wing, it absolutely worked. After the change, they were on the front foot the rest of the first half and they started the second half in complete control.

I honestly thought it was a bit of a mistake to make the planned subs in the 60th minute to bring on Khiry Shelton, Remi Walter and Daniel Salloi. Sporting were in control and the game flow stumbled a bit. That said, they needed time to find their rhythm and I guess they got exactly as many minutes as they needed before they found the equalizer in the 90+8’.

Russell at the #10?

When Johnny Russell subbed on for RB Kayden Pierre, it wasn’t immediately obvious to me what the plan was. Then immediately Cam Duke moved to right back and Russell settled into that 8/10 role with Remi Walter flipping from the 8 to the 6 with Hernandez.

This was different for Russell than the game against New York City FC though. In that game, he was more of a proper 10 because there were only two forwards and he had three midfielders behind him for cover. In this game, chasing the game, SKC played their 4-3-3 but Russell was almost a free flowing attacker. He’d pop up everywhere, including on defense with some hard charging recovery runs. And maybe he’s what this team needs.

Gadi Kinda has previously been that spark in the midfield and with the news he’s out for the year, someone needs to provide that spark. PV has tried Marinos Tzionis in that role, but he played on the wing with Daniel Salloi and that seemed to work much better. If nothing, I’d like to see this look if Sporting need a goal. Some combination of Russell at the 10, with three forwards ahead of him, whoever they are. This is something to keep an eye on.

This Win Feels Different

Sure, it’s just an Open Cup game and Dallas weren’t playing their starters either. But they did start a Designated Player at striker in Franco Jara (SKC only have one DP and he came in the 74th minute). They also put on their starters in Jesus Ferreira and Alan Velasco to try and seal the game. Despite that, Kansas City got it done.

And they did it much more emphatically than they had all year. In their previous two wins (yes, there are only two), they were unconvincing 1-0 victories. There is another asterisk of the red card, but even with nearly every backup on the field, the team played much better and were creating opportunities before that. Not to mention, the mistake that put them behind is a bit fluky (though that second Dallas goal was nice).

It’ll be nice if we all look back on this and it’s the spark that lights the fire for 2022 to turn around.