Saturday’s game against CF Montreal was a deeply cathartic win over a team who is thoroughly in the Eastern Conference playoff scene. And I don't want to be the guy who rains on that parade, but frankly, the rain is already started and I am just commenting on its existence. For as good as the win felt I still have way more concerns than hopes for this team. Let's dive into a few of them.
This Team Cannot Create Goals
Look back at our last two league wins, Saturday against Montreal and June 19th against Nashville SC, and you will notice something in common:
1. They Both Had Fluky Goals
In Nashville, it was this bizarre goal from Felipe Hernandez where he scores off of a lofted free-kick from 40 yards out.
✅ His hometown— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) June 20, 2022
✅ His family in the stands
✅ 40-yards untouched
Felipe Hernandez had himself an afternoon, Sunday. pic.twitter.com/JPfexDwZkQ
And in the Montreal game, we see a broken sequence of play where a defender actively heads the ball back to Khiry Shelton behind the defensive line. Granted Remi Walter still had a filthy finish but the chance creation there is not repeatable.
The game winner for #SportingKC against #CFMTL. #MTLvSKC pic.twitter.com/1RMLL6fBF7— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) July 12, 2022
2. They Both Had Golazos
In Nashville, Graham Zusi rips a curler from outside the box something we tend to see a couple of times a year from Zusi but again by no means represents a consistent game-winning tactic.
The rocket— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) June 20, 2022
The winner pic.twitter.com/lUIj5Sh8BJ
Finally in Montreal, we have what is at the very least the Sporting KC goal of the year and might be in the running for all of MLS. Roger Espinoza absolutely unleashes the least Roger shot of all time from the midfield to beat the keeper. If you have not seen this yet, prepared to have your mind blown.
This is the goal of the week, @MLS.— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) July 10, 2022
Keep all the other options, this is the one pic.twitter.com/FF4MMQ03Dv
It was an AMAZING goal to behold and basically the definition of an unrepeatable goal.
So everything, basically. Teams that win consistently create consistent high-quality chances. Any team can smash and grab a few games a season off the backs of stellar individual efforts. It is not just the eye test that indicates SKC is in trouble the underlying numbers reflect it as well.
In both of the games mentioned SKC had a 0.5 or less expected goal(s) (xG). Meaning the team is capitalizing on low probability chances that will regress to the mean over the season. Looking back at the last five league games, the ones where they are losing actually have slightly higher xG but still, Sporting only get up to the 1.0 mark in the game against New England.
How Could SKC Create More Goals?
I have two ideas but they all have one theme in common:
Get Khiry Shelton Off The Field
I have never loved watching Khiry Shelton play, but I respected that he brought a lot of intangibles to the team. Add on top of that the team got results with him on the field and I could not really argue with him starting. Then this year happened and it is incredibly obvious that Khiry is where our offense goes to die.
He does not hold up the ball anymore, he does not score goals, and his passes are off the mark. At best he is anonymous and at worst he is an active detriment to our attack. KC desperately need him off the field as a starter. Let him spell, Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell on the wings where he has been significantly more successful in the past. So how does Sporting KC deal with this...
Option 1: Play Cameron Duke, Felipe Hernandez, or Marinos Tzionis as a False 9
There was a game earlier this year in which Hernandez started as a false 9 and was immediately more effective running at defenders with the ball than Shelton ever has been. He was taking great shots and putting the backline and keeper under constant pressure. Cam Duke has a similar motor and directness with the ball at his feet even if he plays the game a bit differently. This would force the backlines to actually try to prevent the shot from the center forward, thus freeing up the wingers to get into space.
Tzionis may not have the motor to press the way Hernandez or Duke can. However, he is the best dribbler on the team and would cause all kinds of fits for back lines trying to contain him.
Option 2: Play a 3-5-2
Picture this a back three of Andreu Fontas, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, and Kortne Ford anchoring the middle. You have three good ball handlers and an athletic freak of nature in Kortne Ford. This back line would gobble up balls in the air and has the recovery with Ford for on their heels defending.
This allows you to unleash the meat grinder midfield of all press, all the time. In this midfield, you have Logan Ndenbe and Kayden Pierre marauding along the wings and two of Duke, Hernadez, or Espinoza covering every blade of grass in the middle of the pitch. Finally, you get the best attributes of Oriol Rosell or Remi Walter’s passing while not asking them to push too hard from the deep-lying midfielder position.
Finally, up top, you have two crafty forwards who love to look for space all over in Russell and Salloi.
Will These Happen?
Likely no. While I have been supportive of Peter Vermes in the past it is becoming increasingly clearer to me this year that he either will not or cannot adapt his play style to get the best out of his players. We briefly saw him change to a more bunker and counter team which was more effective, but then he abandoned it as soon as he had a couple more people healthy.
As a comparison consider both the New York Red Bulls game and the Seattle Sounders game where we saw the coaches make in-game changes that drastically changed their shape and play style to great effect against Sporting. I am not sure I am #VermesOut yet, but I do wonder if some of the transfer money over the last few years would have been better spent bringing in someone like Jim Curtin or Brian Schmetzer.
- Isimat-Mirin is confusingly bad at jumping to win aerial duels. I was stunned by how often he simply stood there while his man leaped over him. When he did jump his vertical left something to be desired. Why he starts over Robert Voloder when they make the same type of mistakes is also confusing to me. Give the kids the time, because this year is done.
- Kayden Pierre is the real deal. And I will be profoundly disappointed if, when Zusi is healthy, we see Pierre move back to the bench.
- Sweat looked better this game. Still not great but better.
- Espinoza remains impressive if he is not asked to play every game. I like Roger at a 1-in-3 game starter or consistently off-the-bench schedule.
- Peter Vermes continues to leave his substitutions until too late in the game. He seems to think subs can be effective with less than 10 minutes on the field which statistically is unlikely. I just don't get it.
This article may sound grim, and indeed it is intended to sound so. Because things are grim, there is very little about this team that indicates to me they will improve this year and I think we might be seeing the end of the Peter Vermes era despite what Cliff Illig says. Hopefully, things change and this is all water under the bridge, but only time will tell.