I know, I know, I shouldn’t (and neither should you). Tapping on Twitter updates as I drove back to Kansas City from St. Louis Sunday night during the Sporting Kansas City v Los Angeles Galaxy match wasn’t the safest habit. Just listening to my “Jazz Best” playlist and letting my mind wander in blithe bliss would have been safer, and I would have been spared the emotional turmoil the events of the topsy-turvy game stirred. Ignorance is often bliss.
But the 2-2 draw kept me alert and up in the seat. And I was ready to watch the match on Twitter the next day and bring some thoughts. So here are eight observations from the match, along with some similar thoughts found after taking notes.
On the opening LA Galaxy goal…
From Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes post-match comments: “I think after the first goal was scored, I think we were solid. We settled down… We talked about it before the game, but I think the goal came off of the exact thing we didn’t want. We were trying to stop them from playing through the middle as much.”
‘Well, crap.’ (not an official PV quote, but maybe…)
The screenshot above is after both holding/defensive midfielder Remi Walter and midfielder Erik Thommy are split by Rique Puig’s entry pass; a midfield split is not ideal, yet splits happen at this level. A big fail here is a fail to step. Nicolas Isimat-Mirin fails to step to playmaker Victor Vazquez. His center back companion, Andreu Fontas, is covering Isi while cheating towards Chicharito, as is Fontas’ job. The second big fail is left back Logan Ndenbe’s. Ndenbe allows Chicharito to be inside him in his own channel. Ndenbe needs to see the play develop quicker and get tight to the player who is Mexico’s all-time leading scorer.
Perhaps it was Ndenbe uttering the exclamation instead of Vermes.
‘Well, crap,’ Part two
The 22-year-old Belgian should have uttered something in minute twelve too.
The above screenshot is after Puig (there he is again) switches the ball from the left flank. Ndenbe is in no-man’s land, with two players running right at him. What is a guy to do? He literally has no good defensive options.
If Ndenbe had tucked inside, he could have gotten to the ball at an angle that would have limited options to the inside of the field. Or, tucking inside would have allowed him to mark the runner, Mark Delgado, to Ndenbe’s right. Ultimately, the situation is innocuous because Galaxy right back Julian Araujo passes off instead of driving at Ndenbe. But the lesson needs to be learned.
There is more for Ndenbe. It wasn’t a great first 14 minutes for Logan.
After receiving wide left from a central Isi (the center back is an excellent passer btw) in the 14th minute, Ndenbe has both Thommy and Daniel Salloi available for short passes. However, Ndenbe plays long down the flank, and the ball trickles out of play for a Galaxy goal kick. It was a clear miscommunication that left both available teammates, as well as Vermes, gesticulating in befuddlement.
Sometimes bad things happen.
On the play that led to the second LA Galaxy goal…
From Vermes: “On the second goal, we didn’t rotate. We could have done a couple of things on that play. But look, teams are going to get chances. I commend the guys and I’m proud of the guys. I think they worked hard. We would have liked to have gotten three points at a place that I don’t think anybody expected us to even get a point. We were in a position to get three. I think we played well. Maybe we could have just been a little bit more compact. That’s probably it.”
Isi’s man is Chicharito. Cabral is Pierre’s. Fontas could have “rotated” and filled the gap to intercept Puig’s pass; however, he has to cover the runner wide left that gets too easily beyond Felipe Hernandez and Ndenbe. But… Isi, for his part, peeks over his shoulder and realizes Cabral is free, thus he goes nearer to Cabral. Pierre reacts by momentarily slowing down. Yes, Isi could have filled the gap instead of using proximity to ward of the danger of a coming runner, but… it is Pierre who fails to rotate.
When the ball is on the left wing, a right back’s number one job is to rotate around the weak side. The right back can then see the field by keeping it in front of him, help direct his teammates, and do his most important job - track any weak side runners. Instead, Pierre does nothing to solve the problem of Cabral’s run while Puig runs away from Sporting’s Uri Rosell. By the time Pierre recognizes the danger (‘Well, crap’), a sprint is too late. Match speed perception (or just being committed to the basics) beats leg speed every time, every day. Cabral is taken down by Sporting’s goalkeeper John Pulskamp; then Chicharito does his job on this penalty kick (One out of two actually is bad, Javier… you know. And you should have known. But thank you for that moment.).
Conversely, Pierre tucks in too far in the 49th minute when the ball comes down his side on Sporting’s inner right channel. Pierre holds inside near a mark that Isi has while Russell marks the next widest opposition. When a chip goes out to a Galaxy attacker out wide, Pierre pursues haplessly while Russell glares at him. Fortunately, Chicharito, loosed by Fontas into an offside position, fails to finish the cross and the need to cling to hope via a VAR evaluation is nullified.
Kudos to LAG, but …
The Galaxy took notice and became the first side to make an explicit effort to nullify Kansas City’s largest and latest influencers. Thus, Thommy and Agada’s impact on the match was muted. The Galaxy roughed up Thommy and blanketed both when they were near the ball or had the ball. As a result, Thommy had his weakest match in recent memory (still four shots, one on target; 87.1 pass percentage) and Agada was kept off the goal sheet.
But, Agada got free a couple of times and arguably should have scored, perhaps most evidently on the header he had in the 39th minute. Although the flighted ball in from Johnny Russell was a bit tall (Agada had to fade back to get it), Agada had the entire middle and far side of the goal open.
The one time LA gave Agada space, the Nigerian held up the ball in the midfield, then turned and played a wonderful ball for Hernandez to run onto for KC’s second goal.
Agada’s movement is akin to Chicharito’s. The Galaxy talisman (and I mean for good and for bad) scored four times against Sporting in two matches this season. Two of those were penalties, but the others were of quite a different ilk. Any crevice of space a defense leaves open, Chicharito will find. The man is a master at finding space and running off the ball, lessons any young player would do well to observe often and emulate always.
Agada does not have Hernandez’s eye for little spaces in the box or for often evading the offside trap, yet, but Sporting’s new #9 makes himself available for his teammates via his movement. To get free for the header mentioned above, Agada first comes to Salloi at the top of the box, then, when Russell gets the ball from Salloi, Agada heads to the six with momentum. That movement annoys defenders and makes it difficult to keep Agada under lock and key.
I’m sorry; however,
it was a bit comical, maybe a bit farcical, to watch the Galaxy’s Puig run circles around Espinoza (27th minute) and Rosell (87th) in different moments. Puig is quick and clever. Espinoza and Rosell are not quick. But they do not often get duped like that. If Gaston Brugman improves some at the #6 and the Galaxy become less dependent on Chicharito, look out for LAG next season. Okay, maybe a dominant center back would help the Galaxy too.
Keep your feet on the ground, not in the clouds.
In the 93rd minute, Pierre commits a handball while going airborne to defend Samuel Grandsir in Sporting’s box. Grandsir had to bend his head down to actually contact the ball. There was no need for Pierre to leave his feet and send his body out of control. It was a reactive moment that should have cost Sporting the match. Standing up to the attacker and keeping your feet appropriately planted is solution one in most defending moments.
There were a number of ‘Well, crap’ moments for Sporting in this match. What does it say that this side still drew a point? Answer: It says there were less of those moments and that this team is a solid side, especially with its first-choice lineup.
What does this match say about youthful mistakes?
“I think that’s not an easy thing for the team, and it’s not easy for [Ndenbe and Pierre]. They haven’t played a lot of games here. We’ve actually been pretty consistent with our lineup, and now all of a sudden two outside backs change. The way that [the Galaxy] played put a little bit more weight on [our wide backs] tactically. It was a decent performance on both guys.”
The hope is: growth, that those mistakes will not occur in next season’s stretch drive towards the Supporter’s Shield… First in the Western Conference? A home playoff match? A playoff spot? I am calling the third one. How is that for an early 2023 MLS season prediction for Sporting Kansas City?