There is lots to talk about for Kansas City soccer from over the weekend, and we'll get right to it. But, instead of starting with Sporting KC, who this website dedicates a lot of attention to, let's start with the Kansas City Current, as they are the far better team this year and deserve some more attention.
KC Current vs. Orlando Pride
On Sunday evening, the Current battled back to earn a 2-2 draw in a game I think they frankly should have won. They were the better team for most of the game, a few calls didn't go their way, and they had a couple lapses that gave up goals to allow Orlando a chance.
It was disappointing to see Kansas City trailing at the half, despite outplaying Orlando in the first 45. A momentary lapse allowed former FC Kansas City player, Erika Tymrak, too much space at the top of the box where she lofted a pass onto the head of Celia for the goal.
What I liked is head coach Matt Potter's willingness to change his formation to try and earn a result. He brought on forward Elyse Bennett and moved in a 4-3-3, removing centerback Taylor Leach (who got the start for Edmonds who was a late scratch for healthy and safety protocols). Admittedly, it started poor in the second as KC immediately made a mistake and gave up a goal after a turnover.
On replay, Merrick turns it over in the midfield and then it looks like Ball actually collides with Franch, not the Orlando player. Then they hustle to put the ball into an empty net.— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) August 1, 2022
0-2 | #TealRising #KCvORL pic.twitter.com/d4zthdkdOZ
That said, the formation change ultimately worked as the team found two second half goals and fought back for a draw (and arguably could have had more – see below). But the willingness to change tactics and be aggressive when the first half mostly went well, but the goals weren't coming, is admirable. The players loved it too with Bennett saying after the game it was "fun" and she hopes to be in the 4-3-3 more often.
Speaking of Bennett, she was a force after coming on. She scored the first Kansas City goal (after a beautiful assist from Halie Mace) and then had a shout for a penalty not much later. She had the ball in the box, took a touch and the leg of the defender clearly catches her.
Bennett's face after the no call is priceless.
There is no VAR in NWSL (though it's coming in 2023), so there is no way to go back and change the missed call right now. That said, the AR is right there and KC is once again on the short end of a poor officiating decision. This has happened to them multiple times in 2022, including their last meeting with Orlando where a sketchy PK was given against them.
Should this be Red?
Bennett also drew a 66th minute yellow card against Orlando that arguably should have been a red card. A ball is played over the top (a common theme in a KC Current game) and Bennett has her defender, Megan Montefusco, beat. It's just a matter of if her or the goalkeeper will get to the ball first. But Montefusco does a not-so-obvious jersey tug which slows up Bennett (and she sells it a bit late with a fall).
It's not clear if Bennett gets to that ball first or not, but I think it's still probably a red. It's the last defender and without playing the ball she takes the attacker out of the play and is denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) in my opinion.
KC were down a goal at this point and did find an equalizer, but who knows how it plays out if this is changed. I can't wait for VAR in NWSL.
Sporting KC vs. Austin FC
Now to the less fun game. I will start with this: Sporting Kansas City actually looked good before the red card. "The best last place team ever," to quote comments on The Blue Testament. They once again, just like against LAFC, didn't look like a worst versus first (or second) match-up. Even after they went down a man, they were competitive (though Austin definitely played cautiously once they were ahead).
Red Card Double Standard?
First off, I just have to say, the red card was the correct call. And Peter Vermes agreed.
"First off, he got two yellows in two minutes," started Vermes. "I don’t know if the first one is a yellow card or not, but it really doesn’t matter. You have it. You have to be aware. To get a second yellow in the way that he did, the referee is 100% correct. If you grab a guy, you hold a guy, you pull a guy back - holding is one of the seven cautionable offenses. One-hundred percent, he is correct."
I think both yellows were fair and Cam Duke has to know better. My issue is further along in the quote from Vermes.
"But that was a really, really bad mistake in the game today," said Vermes. "You can’t make that mistake. If you’ve been playing the game for a long time, which [Duke] has, and so have other players, at the end, you can’t make that mistake. You can’t make that mistake. You just can’t. It’s called a caution. So you should be cautious after that."
I honestly think this criticism is fair. Duke needs to play differently after he's on a card. My issue is, I didn't hear Peter say this after Roger Espinoza was sent off with his league record extending red card against Real Salt Lake in a move that caused that game to unravel. Or when Uri Rosell was sent off for a second yellow against the New England Revolution.
If anything, I think you should be expecting younger guys like Duke (who I still contend should have known better) to make these mistakes over veterans like Espinoza and Rosell.
The Referee Crew Was Fine, Good Even
I never pay attention to who the ref is until I see them walking around on the field. When I saw it was Fotis Bazakos, I was immediately concerned. Just this year he's had some questionable games against KC.
Now, of course I don't agree with every foul call. You never well. And there were slight inconsistencies throughout the game. But overall, his crew did well. The near-side AR had a great night taking away three Austin goals (correctly) for offside. The far side AR missed an offside on a goal but the VAR fixed it. Bazakos missed a handball in the box, but the VAR fixed it. I'm the first to complain about referees (maybe too quickly to complain), but this game, while the red card undoes SKC, it was of their own doing and not of the referee crew.
Agada is the Starter Now, Right?
One bright spot from yet another loss was the first start for Willy Agada. He didn't quite make it 90 minutes, cramping up several times before the end, but what he did show had promise (Vermes said after the game he wasn't planning to play him as long as he did but the red card changed those plans).
Despite being listed at just 5'9" and 165 lbs., he played "large." His hold up play was very good. He had a remarkable touch pulling balls out of the air and even if they did bounce away from him off his chest, he did quite well at getting to the second ball. In addition he showed an elusiveness and quick turn ability that on multiple occasions left his defender scrambling to cover him. We may never know if he would have started or not without Khiry Shelton's injury, but he proved he should be starting going forward. Additionally, this allows Khiry to move to backup wing and backup CF, where he's better suited to help his team.
I think most of us knew that it was a good possibility there would be a healthy amount of rotation heading into the Austin game after 120 minutes of exhaustion against Sacramento Republic on the prior Wednesday. However when I saw Ben Sweat's name in the Starting XI, I thought Peter was trolling us. 'I'll prove to you rest isn't needed,' he said in my mind. It turned out Logan Ndenbe was a late scratch with an injury. Additionally, Sweat actually played better, despite literally being carried from the field on Wednesday.
I just hope that Peter doesn't punish the 'kids' for losing this game. Pulskamp was rightfully down on himself after letting through a howler of a goal late in the first half. And Duke might not see the field for a long time after the mental error led to him being sent off.
However, Felipe Hernandez, Marinos Tzionis, Kayden Pierre and the aforementioned Agada all played well and showed they should be on the field. The only thing to play for is 2023. Sporting have lost three straight since we said they needed to win nine of 13, now they need nine of 10. Let's play the guys that either you are trying to see if they should stick around or who are definitely going to be here next season.