How are you feeling Sporting Faithful? I am bitter, depressed, and frustrated today. I honestly don't want to talk about this game, but I do need to talk about this game. I need it like I need a kidney stone to feel alive at this point in my life. Let's feel bad together shall we?
Where The Problems Begin
I know that I said I would talk about the US Open Cup game but to do that we actually need to go back to Saturday against Los Angeles FC. Because that is where things start to unravel, specifically the lineup on Saturday. Even if you think that Sporting KC could still make the playoffs this year, I think everyone would agree our best shot at silverware was the US Open Cup. But apparently, everyone either does not include Peter Vermes or he is wildly unaware of how human bodies recover because he ran out the lineup below in 95+ degree weather.
Tonight's Starting XI#SKCvLAFC | @BlueKC pic.twitter.com/ry7K5vLVHd— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) July 23, 2022
You might notice something strange about that lineup... it looks eerily similar to the lineup for Sacramento Republic FC. Hell, even the cover photo is the same guy!
Your semifinal Starting XI.#USOC2022 | @BlueKC pic.twitter.com/vbrGTcPrmu— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) July 28, 2022
Simply put, Peter Vermes decided to run out most of our best players against LAFC, in a game that had little significance, high heat, and low likelihood of success against the clear league leaders. I do not understand how you rationalize that or rationalize expecting those same players to go for 120 minutes five days later (Spoiler: they couldn't!).
Because of the LAFC mismanagement my ideal lineup is probably unrealistic. Let me propose it anyways:
Tzionis (LW) - Salloi (CF) - Russell (RW)
Thommy (CAM) - Walter (CDM) - Hernandez (CM)
Ndenbe (LB) - Fontas (CB) - Isimat (CB) - Pierre (RB)
There is one name I feel 100% confident about here, namely Marinos Tzionis for Khiry Shelton. I have no idea how you start Shelton, he is indisputably one of the worst center-forwards in the league this year. He had one of his better games and he still looked unable to hold up the ball, take good shots, or meaningfully connect with his teammates. Add on top of that, Tzionis would have eaten Sacramento alive on the dribble and I am baffled by the decision.
There are a couple of others that I feel less confident about but still think would have been the right decision. Felipe Hernandez for Roger Espinoza, Roger looked slow and absent for a lot of the game. He obviously has more big game experience but strangely did not look up for it. In contrast, Hernandez looked lively and aggressive when he came on. He immediately offered another runner in behind and was seen constantly pressuring the ball.
Finally, Kayden Pierre for Graham Zusi. I think if Zusi was not coming back from an injury and was 120-minute fit I could get behind his start. But he clearly wasn't and faded quickly after the 45-minute mark. Alternatively, that might be fine if Peter were willing to make...
Given that PV ran out the team he did against LAFC and then ran a similar lineup against Sacramento you would assume he would use all his substitutes... and you would be wrong. Because the game went to extra-time there were six available subs of which PV used three. And the third was only because Ben Sweat was about to die. Does this look like someone who should have been on the field one minute before?
I think Ben Sweat's soul left his body for a moment. Glad that PV left him on the field until just before this. ♂️ #SportingKC pic.twitter.com/y2cUWR8u4a— Dan McCown (@dan_mccown) July 28, 2022
I have seen boulders that looked more alive than Sweat as he came off the field. As mentioned Zusi was absolutely gassed by the end too but God forbid a more dangerous attacker in Pierre should come on the field with his youngness and ruin the geriatrics party. Finally, we get to Roger Espinoza who could not be subbed because Peter DID NOT EVEN TRAVEL CAMERON DUKE FOR THE GAME.
When asked about subs after the game by The Blue Testament’s Chad Smith, Vermes said:
Vermes on not using more subs: (long pause) "Guys were playing well. People cramp up all the time in games... you get cramps, it's the way it goes. You drink something, put something in your body, and get on with it."#SportingKC #SACvSKC #USOC2022— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) July 28, 2022
The cramps he is referring to are Espinoza, Sweat, Thommy, and Remi Walter just off the top of my head. And he basically says “rub some dirt on it”, I don't get it. I just don't get it.
But it is not just the cramps, it is a stunning lack of awareness of how good the “guys” were actually playing. It is so clear they are not coming down the field in attack near as fast in extra time and that is allowing Sacramento to get set in defense. Again, we have Tzionis and Pierre on the bench who would immediately add pace to the game and he simply refuses to see his “guys” are not impacting the game.
The lack of awareness about how to prepare for and impact this game during play meant that Sporting went to penalties. Those will always be a crapshoot and good on Sacramento for burying all five of theirs. While I have my concerns about the penalty order, namely Graham Zusi taking the fifth shot who has only converted 2 for 5 now in shootouts, it's hard to say PKs will ever leave you anything but feeling lucky or unlucky.
Where Does All This Leave Us
Well, not in a good place certainly. As we have talked about a number of times on TBT it's very unlikely that SKC makes the playoffs. So silverware is a non-starter this year. I think your best move is to play the kids for the rest of the year and start trying to figure out how to rebuild for next year.
While I am extremely frustrated with Peter at this point I just don't see any world in which he gets fired this year (Editor: his owner said as much). His historical record is too good and he has packed SKC’s trophy cabinet too full for him to be let go right now. That said I think a failure to return to near the top of The West next season will lead to his removal. If/when that happens it will be incredibly painful because the entire organization is built around him. Expect at least a couple of down seasons following the Vermes era.
In the end, this season has sucked, and it just makes me feel sad. But I will keep watching the games because I love this team and I think that with good management and some smart transactions this team is capable of once again being the MLS contenders that we know and love. Until next time friends.