It’s been a pretty good week for Krisztian Nemeth. He had an authoritative star-turn in Sporting Kansas City’s 4-0 drubbing of FC Dallas. He got a call-up to the Hungarian national team. His shoulder turn is all the rage. He was the MLS Player of the Month for May.
And now, he gets about 2/3s of a Full 90 mailbag devoted to him. The highest of honors.
Let’s roll it.
My scouting report on Nemeth after 11 games: Fluid with the ball at his feet. Strong with his back to goal. Good vision. Deft first touch. Pretty devastating half-shoulder turn. Needs to track back a bit more. Makes good decisions off the ball. Versatile.
Injuries have marred his career so far and now that he’s finally healthy, I assume he’s looking the guy Liverpool bought as a teenager a few years ago.
Just under half-way through the season, Nemeth is easily the best newcomer to the league not named Giovinco and was just named the MLS Player of the Month too.
Yeah, he’s pretty good (and definitely a viable CF option). We knew he could play off the wing and find dangerous pockets of space (five of his six goals came with him playing out wide), but the FC Dallas game proved he could also lead the attacking line. As Andy Edwards and I discussed on this week’s Talkin’ Touches, Nemeth abused Zach Loyd (Nemeth earned both of Loyd’s yellow cards) and Matt Hedges. Those are two very good MLS defenders — Hedges, in my opinion, is one of the league’s best at the position.
So, he’s good out wide and he’s a more-than capable replacement for Dom Dwyer too.
Also, as pointed out by Andy Edwards on the podcast: KC’s three best options at the forward spots (Graham Zusi-Dwyer-Nemeth) have played just 1,479 minutes together (out of a possible 3,510) this year.
And KC is still the top-scoring team in the league. What’ll happen when all three are healthy again?
This is going to be another rough week. Of all the selection conundrums faced by Peter Vermes this season — Luis Marin vs. Tim Melia, replacing Ike Opara, Seth Sinovic vs. Marcel de Jong vs. Amadou Dia, Soni Mustivar or Servando Carrasco, and spot fill-ins when Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi were both injured — I think this might be his most difficult one.
Who’s left to play central forward?
Dom Dwyer, according to Sam McDowell, was a partial participant this week in training — a pretty big tip off that he isn’t 100% to return this weekend from a neck/groin/whatever injury. (Injury report says right groin strain.)
The guy who played as the third central forward during the preseason, Jacob Peterson, is also likely out.
And, I don’t think James Ansu Rogers will go from 0 minutes to starting against the Seattle Sounders.
So, what will Vermes do? I think the most likely answer is Zusi.
He won’t be the traditional answer to central forward and I think it could look something akin to a false nine — tactical shorthand for a midfielder (like Cesc Fabregas or Thomas Mueller) leading the attacking line.
Kansas City’s tactical system requires a lot of pressing out of a forward (Dwyer is often the team’s first line of defense) and of the available replacements, Zusi knows those expectations the best.
The benefits of the 4-6-0 with Zusi as a playmaker dropping into the attacking midfield would be an increased tempo to the attack (he’s a better passer than Dwyer/Nemeth) and far less long balls from the back (his hold up play isn’t great). It can bring the wing attackers into the box from dangerous angles and create confusion with any of the three midfielders behind Zusi making a late run into the box.*
*This is especially important to watch as Seattle will be without two key players covering this position: Brad Evans was called up to the U.S. national team and midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is suspended.
The drawbacks? A lack of a focal point in the box and the potential for the attack to become bogged down in midfield. Also: Pace. Zusi is a hustler, but not a speedster. Vermes will need to have as much speed as possible on the wing — my guess: Jimmy Medranda and Connor Hallisey — to compensate.
The other options?
Haven’t had enough Nemeth talk? Sam McDowell and I sat down in the soccer bunker at The Star to discuss Nemeth’s hot start, how Kansas City might utilize him and Dwyer together, and what KC might have to do this weekend without him.
Let’s move away from the forwards a bit. How about U.S. national team call-ups that didn’t happen...
As a blessing in disguise? Given the injury situation, it’s highly likely that Vermes will have only 16 healthy players (again) this weekend.*
*The players either guaranteed or likely to miss this weekend: Opara, Myers, Sinovic, Nagamura, Anor, Peterson, Dwyer, Palmer-Brown and Nemeth.
I would guess that Jurgen Klinsmann made a phone call about Besler (and maybe Zusi, but maybe not) and Vermes pushed back.
I expect Besler will certainly get a call-up later for the Gold Cup — perhaps that is why he was left off this roster. While Zusi is rounding into form, his window might have shut on that particular team.
Let’s not even get into the Benny Feilhaber situation. Just read this story from Soccer By Ives about it.
Given that he’s got just 16-18 bodies currently available right now — and the June 16th game is on the heels of a bye week — I imagine Vermes will make few adjustments. However, there could be three interesting ones to watch.
▪ Will Jon Kempin get the start? He needs games under his belt — it’s why he was sent to San Antonio in the first place — and the Open Cup represents his best chance.
▪ Is Chance Myers ready? He’s been progressing week by week, this might give him some first-team minutes in a game situation.
▪ Is this the game for James Rogers? Right now, Rogers is the only outfield player (other than Myers, who’s obviously been hurt) on the active roster (Mikey Lopez is on loan to Oklahoma City) to not play a single minute for KC this season. During preseason, he showed flashes of speed and athleticism on the right wing (and drew mild comparisons to countryman Kei Kamara). He hasn’t been as game-ready as fellow rookies Hallisey and Dia, but this would be a good chance to see what he can do.
A few weeks ago, when Soni Mustivar made his first start, I raised my eyebrows when he drew praise from MLS analyst Matthew Doyle. (I even raised some points of my own in response.)
Turns out, Doyle (as is probably usual) was on the money and out in front of the field.*
*Nemeth was Exhibit A why I like to wait a few games to make definitive analysis on a player’s potential. The following is Exhibit B.
Over the last five games, Mustivar has been extremely steady as Kansas City’s deepest-lying midfielder. In that span — arguably the toughest stretch of the season — KC has gone 3-0-2 (with two very critical road draws to the best two teams in the league). Mustivar is vitally important to that.
Let’s play a little blind stats game.
Player A: 3.6 tackles per game, 4.6 interceptions, 1.2 fouls per game, 0.4 yellow cards per game, 84% passing accuracy.
Player B: 2.8 tackles per game, 3.6 interceptions, 2 fouls per game, .28 yellow cards per game, 84% passing accuracy.
Player A is Mustivar over the last five games. Player B is Oriol Rosell’s season averages in 2013.
Not too shabby, right? While Mustivar lacks the tempo-building aspect of Uri’s game, he’s at least performed in line with him statistically. He might not replicate that over the whole season (the sample size at five games is still very small compared to Uri’s full season playing every game), but it’s a good start shoring up a spot that has been a major weakness since Rosell left.*
*Which, eerily enough, was exactly a year ago as of this writing!
There’s something else to consider when discussing Mustivar’s last five games.
He’s also been vital in helping KC corral five very above-average attacking midfielders — Chicago’s Shaun Maloney, D.C. United’s Chris Rolfe, New England’s Lee Nguyen, Seattle’s Clint Dempsey and Dallas’ Mauro Diaz.
In those five games, those guys accounted for zero goals, zero assists, six key passes* and three shots on goal. Diaz and Rolfe were both yanked from the game and only Nguyen had a passing accuracy higher than 80 percent. He gives Benny Feilhaber the freedom to move around the field and is a really good compliment to Roger Espinoza’s ball-hawking style.
*Maloney had four of those, in Mustivar’s first start with the team.
Mustivar is good you guys.
He’s changed my mind. He might not be among the best in the league yet, but he’s probably penciled in as KC’s defensive mid the rest of the season.
I stand by my assessment on last week’s Talkin’ Touches that Kevin Ellis is a project at centerback. But he’s a project that Vermes is willing to undertake given his instincts, aggression, surprising physicality and potential.*
*And, given PV’s record with developing/unearthing central defenders and his resume as a MLS Defender of the Year, I’m gonna follow his lead on this one.
Is Ellis a superstar in the making? Probably not. Is he a reliable third option? Possibly. Is his two-game performance a fluke? Maybe.
Potential can be a funny thing. The only way to realize it is to actually get on the field and play.
He’s been around so long with the team (this is his fifth season), that it’s easy to forget that he’s just 23 and only a year older than Hallisey and Kempin.*
*Just for historical comparison: When Besler was 23, he made just 12 appearances for Kansas City and was yanked from the lineup for Shavar Thomas. (Besler’s breakout year would arrive two years later.)
Last year, Ellis got his first meaningful games with the first team (20 league appearances) and he’s bounced around from forward (where he began in the reserves) to fullback (where he can play both spots) to now central defender during his career. Those three jobs couldn’t be more different. (However, he’s learning them from a guy who started his career as a striker before moving to defender.)
His height might hold him back from being a consistent starter in this league, but it’s not as big of an issue as more and more teams are moving to push fullbacks (who tend to be faster, more agile and better with the ball at their feet) into the middle of defense. (Recent examples: Barcelona often utilizes Javier Mascherano as a CB and Manchester United turned to either Daily Blind and Marcos Rojo there at times.)
Out of necessity given the injury situation, Vermes has had to play him. But he’s also shown faith in not making a panic move despite some troubling showings.
With youth and learning comes ups and downs — every coach who subscribes to the #PlayYourKids philosophy has to ride that roller coaster. Some days you get ups — like Ellis providing a goal and assist against Dallas and doing a convincing job stuffing bullish attacker Blas Perez. Others, you get the opposite — like the disconnect between Ellis and Jalil Anibaba that crept up in Los Angeles and Houston.
That faith was paid off over the last two games.
I hate to drop more Matthew Doyle in this space, but he made an outstanding point re: Ellis during the game last week.
Thanks for the good questions again this week. Enjoy your weekend.