Troubling Trends: Red cards, penalties and late goals

04/30/2014 1:19 PM

04/30/2014 1:36 PM

Forget about the loss for a second. Losses happen. Last year, Sporting Kansas City lost 10 games and still won the MLS Cup. (It happens to nearly every MLS team — since 2009, only five teams have finished the regular season with at most five losses.)

Sporting KC should be OK.

What's a bit worrying about KC's

2-0 loss in New England

last weekend though was the continuation of a few negative trends this year.

Only a quarter of the way through the MLS season and KC is drawing more red cards, suffering more penalties and shipping more late goals than usual.

Trend #1: Red cards

Sporting KC midfielder Oriol Rosell and defender Aurelien Collin were both shown straight red cards for "serious fouls" this year. Rosell against Salt Lake, Collin against New England.*

*Surprisingly, it was Collin's first actual red card in MLS. His "first" red card was also against New England, but was rescinded after a review showed it was actually Birahim Diop who committed the foul.

"After reviewing the tape, we think it was extremely harsh," Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes told The Star after the game. "It was probably a yellow card, at best."

Collin told MLSsoccer.com that he was

"surprised and hurt"

by the dismissal.

In real time and on the first TV angle, I might totally agree with them. It looks a bit like a late challenge with a dive. But when you see it from behind and see Collin go studs-first on Diego Fagundez's ankle, it looks like a harsh tackle and a fair decision to me.* (Also, referee Alan Kelly had a very clear angle on the contact with the ankle.)

*I don't think it was dirty, nor do I think Collin's "intent" was to hurt. That doesn't mean it wasn't dangerous.

The team will not appeal the suspension.

As physical as Kansas City — and Collin — can be, seeing red isn't very common.

Since 2009, KC has averaged 4.4 red cards per season. Since Davy Arnaud left town*, Kansas City picked up just four red cards total during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

*Arnaud picked up three red cards alone in the 2010 season.

Last year? Only C.J. Sapong was shown a red. (For

this

.)

Red cards change games — not just in the game the player is ejected from, but the following game for which the player is suspended. It's a double whammy and KC can't afford — given its current depth issues — to have players like Collin and Rosell out for many key games.

Collin will miss this Sunday's match against the Columbus Crew. Lawrence Olum will likely get the start in his place. Teenager Erik Palmer-Brown could see his name on the game day roster for the first time this weekend as the team's only other central defender.

Trend #2: Penalties

As with red cards, KC gave up just one penalty all season last year. That kick was converted by Toronto's Robert Earnshaw in the second game of the season.

It was a down year for Sporting in that regard, but only slightly. Over the last five years, the club allowed an average of 2.6 penalties per year — with a high of four in 2009 and 2012.

This year? Already above that average with three. All have been converted.

Penalty kicks are, typically, basically free chances to score.

Since 2009, KC's goalkeepers have stopped just three of 16 non-shootout penalty kicks. (The last PK save for a Kansas City goalkeeper was 2012.)

Trend #3: Late goals

Over the last two seasons, Kansas City allowed just four goals after the 90th minute.

Through seven games this year, KC has already equalled that mark — including both goals against New England. Interestingly, Trends #1 and #2 directly led to both Revs goals.

On the Teal Bunbury (

because of course

) goal, KC's defense was scrambling big time.

Graham Zusi, KC's widest defender with Seth Sinovic tucked in, can't quite close down Fagundez fast enough. Matt Besler and Olum — seeing his first action as a defender this year — can't close the gap that Bunbury exploits. Goal. Game over.

It was sloppy and disjointed — two words you don't usually associate with Sporting KC's defense. But, it happened and this wasn't the first time this year.

With the first two trends, it's possible that Sporting KC are caught in a rising wave of red cards and penalties: There have been 24 reds and 30 PKs through 71 games.

Both are on pace to shatter MLS records.

This last trend, no matter what is happening with the rest of the league, is troubling

and

Sporting specific. It also definitely cost Sporting KC at least 5 points already this year.

Chad Barrett's late scramble cost KC a road draw in Seattle. Ditto for Teal Bunbury's strike last weekend. Matt Hedges' header off a free kick erased a KC win in the home opener against Dallas.

If the red cards and penalty kicks are part of a rising trend league-wide, there might not be a lot more to do other than adjust to the referees. But leaking late goals? That's a very fixable problem and if Kansas City hopes to challenge for silverware again, it's a problem that must be fixed.

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