There have been a few days for reflection after Sporting Kansas City fell hard by three goals to D.C. United. Not surprisingly, it’s been the main topic of conversation for this week’s mailbag. Could the heavy loss be a stepping stone? Are more changes coming to the lineup? Who does KC miss most from its MLS Cup-winning squad last year?
Let’s open it up and see what we’ve got.
While it obviously sucks to lose a late-season match to a conference rival — much less having said rivals pop you in the mouth for good measure — I’m not sure the 3-0 loss to D.C. United was bad enough to crack this list of post-rebrand losses:
1. Houston 2, Kansas City 0 (2011 MLS Eastern Conference final)
One of the biggest gut punches in franchise history. The stakes, the anticipation, the team’s quality — It was all there, and Carlo Costly ruined it.
2. Seattle 2, Kansas City 1 (Aug. 6, 2011)
The Sounders scored two goals after the 90th minute to hand KC the first league defeat at Sporting Park. Two goals after the 90th minute. Two.
3. Cruz Azul 5, Kansas City 1 (March 19, 2013)
After a solid first leg in Kansas City, it all well and truly fell apart in Mexico City. This was a whopping, plain and simple.
4. Houston 2, KC 1 (Two-leg 2012 Eastern Conference Final)
Second verse, same as the first. Sporting dug a hole on the road and couldn’t get out — no matter how many shots they took.
5. Richmond 2, Kansas City 0 (July 12, 2011)
There are still fans I know who refuse to talk about this game. Major disappointment.
The only thing that could sneak this loss into a list such as this would be the fact that it’s the biggest margin of defeat at Sporting Park in league play. But, I can’t see it up there above those five games.
This game should be a chance for a bit of reflection from the coaching staff — can KC play its customary high line with its current pieces? — and a reminder that this league can be brutal.
Every team in contention for the Supporters’ Shield has a bad loss on its resume.
Seattle got beat 5-0 (by New England) and Real Salt Lake lost 4-0 (to Seattle) in May. The mighty Los Angeles Galaxy got dropped 4-1 by Columbus two weeks ago.
D.C. United thumped Dallas 4-1 in April, but were beaten 3-0 by both Salt Lake and Columbus.
In a league with this much parity, these games just happen sometimes.
Considering how wacky the score lines have been with a few good teams, it’s quite remarkable that the last time (before Saturday) that Sporting lost by more than two goals was on June 23, 2012 in Philadelphia. That’s 795 days and 77 MLS games between losses by more than two goals.
What’s more, Kansas City’s defense has had just TWO league matches with more than two goals scored allowed by its defense (both 3-2 losses in 2013) in between that Philly loss and last Saturday.
Now, as for the other part of your question. While the injuries have caught up with KC a bit, I think this specific game comes down to disorganization. For whatever reasons, KC’s defenders — including three starters from the MLS Cup final — couldn’t keep their shape against a very good opponent.
They’ve lost runners this year and been beaten for pace at times, but collectively haven’t had an off day like that in a loooong time. I’m willing to give them a mulligan for this particular game.
After the game, Vermes did hint that changes could be coming. Which seems ironic considering it was the first game this season that Vermes used the same lineup for two consecutive games.
“I don’t know if it’s games off because of tiredness. It’s games off because of performance. If guys aren’t playing well, they’re not going to play. Tactically, those guys’ decisions were absolutely horrendous.”
On Sunday, Vermes sent Kevin Ellis — the backup defender at all four spots — down on loan to Oklahoma City Energy FC. This seems to be counter to what he said on Saturday unless you think he might have sent Ellis down for a 90-minute tune up to get his fitness level up to slot into the lineup on Friday night. (Though, he did play 90 minutes in Nicaragua last week — so maybe that theory doesn’t hold water.)
But if Vermes is going to make changes to the back, Ellis is the logical candidate to rotate in. Now, should he come back, who does he replace?
Take your pick.
Igor Juliao is having a tough time with the dual-responsibilities of a fullback in Vermes’ system. Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin both picked a terrible time to both have a bad night. And we discussed whether Seth Sinovic was a little overused last week in this space.
I think, if it happens, it’ll be Besler or Collin for the simple fact that Vermes aimed his comments directly at them.
At this stage, pundits and fans alike are starting to ask this question. It doesn’t matter what they (we) think the answer is. It matters when Vermes will make that determination — and he’s not shown many signs of wavering at this point.
I’d say fireworks. Bad results happen, but a rogue firework can put out an eye — or worse.*
*If you are unaware of this issue, the pregame fireworks on Saturday went rogue as two shot directly into the crowd. No one appears to have been injured.
After a dismal season, United is second only to Seattle in the Supporters’ Shield race. How? They’ve managed to do the complete 180 basically by acquiring good players other teams found too expensive to keep around.
On Saturday, United got excellent performances from defenders Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin (acquired in the first stage of the re-entry draft after being let go by Houston and Los Angeles, respectively), midfielders Chris Rolfe (picked up in a preseason trade with Chicago) and Davy Arnaud (a trade from Montreal), and forward Fabian Espindola (snagged in stage two of the re-entry draft after New York didn’t pick up his extension).
Those guys were all deemed surplus at their last teams, but they are vital to D.C. because they know the rigors of an MLS season and (as we saw Saturday) how to win big games on the road. It’s hard to argue with given the success they’ve had so far.
Smart team building and good general managing.
Vermes installed a system (the high press) with this team that is more than just a formation, it’s an identity. For the last five years, Sporting KC has played generally the same way with the same system. Not just the first team either, the reserves play that way and so does the academy.
So, when called upon, players outside of the first team know exactly what is expected of them — especially players like Eric Kronberg, Lawrence Olum, Kevin Ellis and Jon Kempin who have been inside this system for a while.
That system/identity has also allowed KC to add specific players to fit the system — Oriol Rosell, Benny Feilhaber, Aurelien Collin, Andy Gruenebaum, Seth Sinovic — and Vermes has given those players time to adapt to what is expected (superb fitness, mostly).
Another factor, also a credit to Vermes, is that playing time is (generally) merit-based. After tearing up the USL Pro last year and impressing in training sessions last year, Vermes threw Dom Dwyer into the regular rotation. A year later, Dwyer is the team’s leading scorer and threatening Preki’s single-season scoring record. This happened before with Rosell, Roger Espinoza, Matt Besler, Chance Myers and others.
And, if need be, KC has been willing to move more-senior players to make room for someone who is up-and-coming (a la trading Jack Jewsbury to Portland to free up playing time for Graham Zusi).
Salt Lake and Kansas City are very similar in this team building/management. It’s a major factor why both teams consistently spend time at the top of the table no matter how deep they have to go on their bench.
Based off the last few weeks, KC is missing all of them equally. The defensive shape has been off without Rosell, the defensive line disorganized without Myers and the midfield has been fairly weak without Nagamura.
However, I think the team misses Nagamura the most right now — if only because he’s the one player of that group the team can actually get back this season.
Olum and Jorge Claros are both serviceable replacements in the defensive midfield. Juliao (yes, still a teenager) has a lot of issues but also a lot of room to grow — and maybe Ellis or Jacob Peterson can pinch in.
But it’s been proven so far that KC really doesn’t have long-term answer for the two-way midfield spot.
There were a few interesting questions that just didn’t quite make the cut. So, here are the quick answers: Fruit on top if it’s Greek yogurt, on the bottom if it’s mixed in; Dwyer will be fine; I’m not brave enough to ask Bruce Arena that; supersoakers wouldn’t work that well underwater; and you probably don’t want to hear the birds and bees talk from a guy who has logged over a hundred hours on a football video game.