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It Wasn’t All Bad: Eight Observations from Sporting KC v LAFC

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Sporting Kansas City William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday night, would you believe me if I said it wasn’t clear for a while who was the first place team and who was the last place team when LAFC came to town to play Sporting Kansas City? For the first thirty minutes, it was all Sporting (okay, there may have been another half-chance back post header by LA). Obviously, LAFC started to find their way and Logan Ndenbe saved a sure goal off the line before the half, but it wasn’t until the second half when it started to unravel.

Let’s start with something good.

Erik Thommy is What This Team Needs!

I couldn’t be the only person stunned to see Erik Thommy, who had something like three practices after arriving in the country (!) Monday, in the starting lineup. But it didn’t take long to see exactly why he was starting. As Peter Vermes said, “he didn’t go backwards, he went forward.”

The window was closed in the press box (sorry for those of you sitting in the heat) and it was a first for me to be able to hear the reactions of my colleagues up there. Mostly it’s so loud from the fans, you have to speak up to be heard. But little ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ could be heard and they were almost exclusively for Thommy.

The sample size is very small, but you could see Thommy brought something the team has been missing all year. Peter echoed that in the post-game presser saying, “he brings a lot of the qualities that Gadi Kinda brings.”

Going into the season, Alan Pulido being out was a bummer, but the news that eventually came that Kinda would miss the entire season may have hurt more. This team won without Pulido a lot in 2021. It’ll be interesting to see how they fit together when Thommy and Kinda are both on the field in 2021.

Three last quick things. The media talked to Thommy after the game and he gave thoughtful answers, but three things felt worth pointing out:

  • On the hot weather: “Of course [it made a difference],” said Thommy. “Compared to Germany, you cannot compare it as it’s completely different weather and it makes it tough.”
  • He referred to himself in the third person: “I said it before, I’m here to be the best Erik Thommy off and on the pitch.” I don’t know why, but I love this.
  • And finally, on playing in front of the SKC fans: “I went in and had goosebumps and that makes me feel that I’m in the right place.”

Don’t Forget Agada

The same size is much smaller, but Willy (yep, that’s what he goes by) played well. He was a burst of energy and would appear to have good super sub potential even when Pulido is back. He had some quick moves, slick turns and his first touch in the box was a long cross from Kayden Pierre that he whipped on goal with his head from a decent distance out. It went right to the keeper, but it showed promise.

Not to crap all over Khiry Shelton, but he got the ball around or near the box a couple times and didn’t take advantage. He had no shots all night. There was one time where he is driving at the backline and appears to have a look at goal but then plays the (wrong) pass to Johnny Russell. However, Salloi, who does have one defender on him, is right in front of the goal and more likely to get off a decent chance in that situation.

Back to Agada. When asked about his first steps onto the pitch he said, “this atmosphere was amazing. Especially the fans. They are caring, loving and so excited. They are here today to support us, to cherish us and hopefully we’ll bring back the smile to their faces.”

Did Isi Earn a PK?

In the 85th minute, on a recycled ball off a corner kick, Kayden Pierre played a ball over the top to Nicolas Isimat-Mirin. The crowd and the press box thought it was a clear penalty. Even going back and watching the initial angle, it looks like a penalty. However, watch the replays in slow-motion, in particular the third one, there doesn’t look to be much in it. It looks like Isi sells a shove that may have just been extended hands on his back. You be the judge.

What is Persistent Infringement?

Early in the match, I thought the referee, Lukasz Szpala (who I’ve never heard of), was having a good match. I didn’t agree with every call, but you never will. Then things started to take a turn. He gave a warning to Diego Palacios on, I believe his third foul, pointing to multiple spots on the field and waving his arms as if it was a final warning. Then he fouled Russell again and he again gave him a talking to and seemed to give the “no more” signal.

Yet when Palacios fouled Johnny Russell yet again late in the game, no card. Not even a warning this time. What is the point of a “final” warning if you don’t follow through? I will admit, of all the fouls, the last one was maybe the lightest, but it’s called persistent infringement for a reason.

It’s unlikely it changed the game much, but if he’s on a yellow and has Russell running at him, he may have to think twice before making a challenge.

A few other instances stood out:

  • Jesus Murillo stops a Willy Agada attack up the left side of the offense near the sideline. There isn’t really anyone back so if he beats Murillo he’s going to likely have a decent chance at goal. That should be a yellow in my book and Murillo later got a yellow, that could have theoretically been his second. With 10 minutes of stoppage time, who knows.
  • The others are longer, let’s give them more time...

Did Vela Deserve a Red?

I was asked on Twitter, and then I saw the discussion by KC_123 and Kcrews123 (do you two know each other?) in the comments on our match thread, if Carlos Vela should have picked up a red on his yellow card challenge against Remi Walter.

I had to go back and watch it and I think Vela gets a bit lucky. He is late, straight legged, studs up and high on the challenge. What saves him is probably two things:

  1. He’s Carlos Vela
  2. and Remi’s leg is up and not planted

If that leg is planted, it could be horrible.

Cam Duke PK Shout

Live, I definitely didn’t think Cam Duke earned a penalty when there was a collision just inside the box with Eddie Segura. However, there was a discussion of a shove in the back (also in our comments) and I admittedly was looking at the ball. On replay though, I don’t see a shove. Ryan Hollingshead does have an arm extended, but Duke is already going down. I don’t think he’s selling it as I think he legit falls over Segura after Eddie wins the ball and Duke kicks his plant leg.

No PK for me.

To wrap up the referee talk, I don’t think he’s the reason Sporting didn’t win. I sometimes feel like it comes across that way when we complain about refs. He was imperfect, as they all are. But I doubt any of this changes the outcome.

For all the First Half Excitement...

... the expected goals (xG) were actually really bad. Maybe it’s a weak link in the attack or maybe it’s that improvement stands out so huge with this rough 2022 season. But Sporting KC had only 0.46 xG according to FotMob. Stunningly LAFC only had 0.96 and I’d think of all their chances the Ndenbe save off the line was probably the highest percentage chance. The ones they finished were actually a bit tougher. The key is they finished most of the decent chances they had.

I kind of miss the Sporting KC teams that would put up endless shots. Sure, a lot of them didn’t go in, but if you aren’t shooting, you aren’t scoring. Seven of Sporting’s 11 shots were from outside the box, so those are obviously lower percentage. And only three of 11 were on target.

Hernandez and Melia Injury Updates*

Both Felipe Hernandez and Tim Melia were subbed off in this game due to injury (the team actually made six subs as Hernandez was a concussion sub). The good news is that the initial diagnosis for Hernandez doesn’t appear to actually be a concussion. He had a laceration and bleeding that required stitches, so he had to leave. But you never know with head injuries.

As for Melia, no real update as Vermes didn’t know anything post-game. We can confirm he was clutching his hamstring after making a save just before he went off. Then he tried to play through it but when the ball went out of bounds again he sat down and was helped off the field. Muscle injuries tend to linger, so if it’s a hamstring strain/sprain, it’s likely he’ll at least miss a little time, which is unfortunately for him as this was his first game back.

Melia has been durable over his career. Since taking the starting job in 2015, he’s consistently played the vast majority of Kansas City’s games. 2022 is shaping up to be his least involved year across all competitions between John Pulskamp getting the Open Cup starts and now his second injury of the season.

If you missed the game, be sure to check out the highlights to get a glimpse.