There are certain staples of the Peter Vermes system in Kansas City, and each of them comes with its own verbiage, perhaps none more recognizable than “Sporting Fit.”
But after seven years of constant instructions, things like fitness demands, the 4-3-3 formation and the high press become implied rather than explicitly stated.
That’s allowed Vermes and his staff to instead harp on another key concept. And it’s one of the most significant factors in Sporting Kansas City’s early-season success.
“If you have too many guys in one quadrant of the field and lose the ball, you’re unbalanced. That’s bad positional allocation, and it’s going to bite you,” Vermes said. “If you’re balanced and in good positional allocation, you’re not only tougher to defend, but if you lose the ball, you’re in a good position to defend and get the ball back. You’re not going to get exposed.”
For all of the strides Sporting KC has made defensively this season — after relatively “down” years in 2016 and 2015 — some of that can actually be attributed to their positioning on offense.
It’s a common philosophy to spread the field while controlling the ball, but Sporting KC, which plays at FC Dallas on Saturday night, floundered in its execution for stretches over the past two years. While positional allocation isn’t a measurable statistic, the failures showed in the form of counter-attacks that rushed through the gut of the Sporting KC defense without issue.
Hasn’t happened in 2017. It’s a combination of two factors — the limitation of bad turnovers and the positional allocation to win the ball back quickly. The two go hand-in-hand.
“When we have the ball, we’ll open up and try to give support to the guy with the ball,” said Sporting KC captain Matt Besler. “If you lose it right there, then you’ve got a big space right in the middle of the field that teams can go down and score. We’re not putting ourselves in that position this year because we haven’t been giving it up in bad spots.”
The critical areas are typically those that run down the spine of the field. And the players who occupy those positions — Besler and Ike Opara in the center of the defense and midfielders Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza and Benny Feilhaber roaming the center of the midfield — have been particularly careful not to concede the ball.
As a team, Sporting KC’s passing accuracy is 80 percent, two points better than 2016. The club has therefore won the possession battle in eight of 12 halves.
Which reverts back to the original topic.
“If you are spread out with good positional allocation, and a guy has seven, eight, nine options of where to go with the ball, you’re going to make a better decision, which doesn’t put us in a (bad) moment,” Vermes said. “I think that’s helped us decrease the number of times that we’ve given up possession in very critical areas of the field, and that means less shots (allowed), less goals (allowed) and all those things.”
SPORTING KANSAS CITY AT FC DALLAS
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. Saturday; at Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
▪ TV/RADIO: Fox Sports KC Plus; WHB (810 AM)