It took until the last 10 minutes of the match to find a breakthrough, but Sporting Kansas City found just enough to beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0 at Sporting Park.
The club is currently 6-2-6 with 24 points — good for second place behind Seattle in the Western Conference.
While Kansas City controlled most of the run of play, Seattle was controversially denied a goal in the second half.
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For my money, it looks like Lamar Neagle is slightly onside and that goal should’ve counted.
Seattle fans will feel hard done by that decision (and the game-deciding penalty decision later), but Kansas City fans know all too well what it’s like to have a bad offside decision go against you this year.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
1. The Battle of the False 9s
With both teams beleaguered by injuries and call-ups, Peter Vermes and Sigi Schmid were both forced to improvise with midfielders starting as central forwards.
Without Dom Dwyer in the starting lineup and Krisztian Nemeth on national team duty, Vermes turned to midfielder/winger Graham Zusi. Without Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Chad Barrett, Schmid had to use Lamar Neagle.
In tactical parlance, that move is often called a False 9. It’s when a traditional playmkaing midfielder lines up at the top of the formation. It can often lead to inventive and unpredictable angles of attack (Barcelona and the Spanish national team popularized and perfected it). The downside, as KC and Seattle found out, is that can also leave the team without a focal point in the middle of the box to take chances.
For the first 50 minutes, Kansas City lacked a player making a strong back-post run to get on the end of a few crosses. It seemed as if Marcel De Jong and Connor Hallisey were both intent on tuck inside or roaming from their position a little too much.
Then came a real striker into the picture when Dom Dwyer came on in the 58th minute.
He didn’t have a great game (by his standards) and he still looks like he’s not 100 percent, but he made a defense-stretching direct run exactly when Kansas City needed it to earn the eventual game-winning penalty from Benny Feilhaber.
After the game, Vermes applauded Dwyer’s “courage” to go after the ball. Considering that he’s missed the last two games injured, it’s not always an easy decision to fling yourself into a physical challenge.
Even if it was questionably a penalty.
I think Stefan Frei has a legitimate complaint (one he made very vociferously during and after the game) that he had as much right to go for the ball as Dwyer did. From my perspective (it did happen in front of us in the press box), Dwyer was probably fouled by Zach Scott and was headed down when Frei comes to hit the ball.
What did both parties think of the call?
Kansas City now gets a bye week and a chance to get Nemeth back into the squad and Dwyer back to full health.
2. The Real Dealia is here to stay
Time Melia is now 4-0-2 in his first six starts with Sporting Kansas City.
Against the Sounders, Melia stepped up and made six massive saves. This was a really big one.
“He is playing extremely well and adds another dimension to our team,” Vermes said. “There’s a confidence between the backline and the goalkeeper and vice versa.”
It’s not only the confidence that he’s bringing to the team, it’s the consistency. He doesn’t hesitate to come off his line and he doesn’t flap at the ball.
Early in the game with a shot that was moving and dipping from Neagle, Melia just puts his hands together and parries it away.
A less confident and consistent ‘keeper might have tried to catch that — and spill it dangerously in front of the net.
3. Picking up points
Back on April 18, Kansas City was licking its wounds after a late and disappointing 2-1 loss at Los Angeles. The club was 2-2-3 and every bit as inconsistent as that record indicates.
Since then? Kansas City is 4-0-3 with wins over FC Dallas, New England and Seattle.
That’s with an injury crisis, a new goalkeeper, a fullback-turned-centerback playing major minutes, two rookies starting in big games and a brand-new defensive midfielder.
It’s still a long season — and there have been an awful lot of draws — but Sporting KC has 24 points and leads the league in scoring.
Not a bad stretch at all.
Up next: Kansas City has a bye week in league play next weekend, but will host USL side St. Louis FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on June 16.