After weeks of grinding out results with a lineup beset by injuries, untimely suspensions, timely late goals and surprisingly poor home form, Sporting Kansas City produced a four-goal explosion against Toronto.
This is the best team in Major League Soccer — tied with Real Salt Lake in the Supporters’ Shield race with 42 points — and they aren’t even really 100 percent yet.
Sporting KC is 7-1-2 over the last 10 matches. That slip-up in Vancouver already seems like a distant memory.
Of course, being the best team in the league doesn’t mean anything in August. But with 10 regular season games remaining (and CONCACAF Champions League starting on Tuesday), Kansas City is starting to find the right gear for the climb up the MLS Cup playoff mountain.
Here are three thoughts and some gifs from the victory.
1. A midfield that works again
After four consecutive matches of tinkering with his midfield, Peter Vermes went with a pretty familiar trio: Lawrence Olum behind Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber. It might not be the final trio for the playoffs, but it was effective against Toronto tonight.
The transitions were fluid from defense to attack and, more importantly, as a group the three were able to press Toronto’s midfield and disrupt play. Besides Michael Bradley, no Toronto midfielder could hang on to the ball to relieve pressure.
All three put in a tremendous amount of work — Zusi, especially, put in the hard work that you don’t often see from attacking midfielders.
In attack, Zusi and Feilhaber created clever shapes to facilitate ball movement and circulate possession, while Olum shut down the main passing channels for TFC’s forwards.
For the first 35 minutes (and the last 35 too) Kansas City controlled and stretched Toronto’s defense. A lot of credit for that goes to the central build-up play from the middle and dangerous late runs into the box from Feilhaber/Zusi.
The one gaffe for the night was a Feilhaber mistake that led to Gilberto’s goal right before halftime.
He almost atoned for that with the pass of the night.
2. This is why team’s don’t play more open in Sporting Park
You know how a lot of teams come to KC and bunker? You might have heard Vermes complain about it before.
Well, results like this are exactly why team’s don’t play play more open when in KC.
From the outset, Toronto pressed just as high and hard as KC. Fullbacks Jackson (who had a dreadful night) and Justin Morrow pushed up into attack often. In the first half, this mean a lot of emergency — and poor — tackling from a wobbly back line and two precise Dom Dwyer penalty kicks.
Late in the second, Toronto ran out of gas and could only try and stop the flood from rising too high. Kansas City could’ve easily scored two or three more goals in the second half as the possession and pressure mounted.
Toronto wasn’t completely overrun though and did have their moments to get back in the game just after halftime. But Jon Kempin (in his first MLS start) came up big in stopping a one-on-one with Gilberto and a selfish play from Jackson (not to mention a brilliant recovery from Collin) kept TFC from getting back into the game.
3. KC needs Soony Saad in the game
While Dwyer leads the team in goals and Feilhaber has a flair for the dramatic, Saad is the best pure shooter on Kansas City — touch, aim, composure, class.
Saad had it all on what was essentially the game-clinching goal against Toronto.
When he’s on his game, he gives Kansas City an option to score besides Dwyer and provides another dimension in attack with his ability to create chances by cutting in from the wings. If he’s on form, it also makes it easier to drop Zusi back to the midfield.
Saad turns 22 on Sunday (which explains the celebration below). Which means that he’s yet to really fully realize his potential yet. If KC has yet another gear, it could be Saad who finds it.
Gif(s) of the Night
This pretty much sums up Toronto’s night. Bright Dike fluffs his shot right into Kempin’s waiting arms — but his shoe, which came flying off on contact, scored.
And this by C.J. Sapong as the game was winding down is why soccer gifs even exist.