Quick brain teaser: What kind of team is Sporting Kansas City right now?
The world-beaters that raced past everyone in Major League Soccer to reach the 21-point mark? The team that swept through five Western Conference teams en route to a 7-0-0 start? The possession and passing monolith that ran the under-manned Revolution ragged? The plucky never-say-die physical marvels that over-turned a 1-goal deficit against Dallas? The defense-wins-championships juggernaut that erected a steel curtain in front of the net for nearly two months?
Or are they the team that can't buy a victory in May? The out-of-ideas eleven wandering the field in Portland hoping a goal would fall into the back of net by accident? The suddenly leaking goals like a boat made of swiss cheese squad allowing two goals a game? The shaky squad that lets the expansion Montreal Impact run roughshod over them at Livestrong Sporting Park? The team that gives up bone-headed penalties (or even more bone-headed attempts at backwards clearances in the box)? The team that stakes itself to an early lead only to throw it away with costly mistakes?
While it's still early in the season, Sporting Kansas City is suffering froma sudden loss of momentum and troubling identity crisis
. Doesn't this sound, like, awfully familiar?
The team have flattened out as of late. After a 7-0-0 start, Kansas City have dropped three of the last four games and squandered a two-goal lead in Colorado.
Blame opponents for figuring out how to exploit KC's pressing system. Blame defenses for keying in on suffocating Sporting's circulation of the ball. Blame Vermes for riding his current crop of players a little too long. Blame a bench that might not be as deep and dynamic as it originally seemed. Blame sketchy defensive play. Blame long road trips. Blame a collective fear of the month of May.
Blame whatever you want, but this is the third year in a row that Kansas City faltered in this month. Call it the May Miasma.
The team needs a change. A spark. A tactical tweak here. A change of position there. A new player rotated in. And old one rotated out.
Thankfully, Kansas City might have just the man for the job.
During his three years in charge Peter Vermes has dealt with (and often been responsible for) the team heading in the wrong direction, but he's also shown a knack for getting things back on track by making simple (and often unexpected) moves.**Granted, it's not exactly a huge sample size of two full years. But it's all we have to go on.
In the summer of 2010, with a historically bad offense sputtering even more than normal, Vermes needed to do something to liven up his attack.
Rookie Teal Bunbury was showing tons of promise but was having a hard time holding the line and creating chances for others (well, at least he's still not doing that... wait, never mind).
He was getting no help from veteran Josh Wolff (out of position and unhappy in the 4-3-3) nor newcomer Ryan Smith (who the league had figured out to a certain extent). The lone producer was Kei Kamara, but he was still adapting to his new position as right forward.
The bench was literally no help. Sunil Chhetri? He'd already come and gone (and took all his Facebook fans with him). Zoltan Hercegfalvi? Still rehabbing a bad knee injury.
Which left only the smiling, happy, yellow-booted, under-appreciated and forgotten journeyman Birahim Diop. (Moment of silence, please.
Of course it worked. Just like every blogger/observer predicted it would. (You remember nothing said by this blogger at the time.
The central defender turned defensive midfielder (who hadn't made an MLS start in EIGHT YEARS) morphed into a deadly striker, scoring two goals against the New England Revolution. This will be known for the rest of Sporting history (or as long as I'm alive) as THE DIOP GAME (TM).
This game (not the DIOP GAME REDUX against San Jose to end the season):
More important than the goals though, Diop held up the ball for the attack, occupied a central defender to create channels and won headers to retain possession. It was exactly what Vermes wanted/needed from his offense.
The aftermath: After scoring just 10 goals through its previous 14 games, immediately after THE DIOP GAME (TM), Kansas City reeled off 13 goalsin five games!
There were no playoffs for KC that year and Diop wasn't the long-term solution (that would be C.J. Sapong, who KC drafted in the first round after the season because he could do all of those things consistently), but that move helped get the team scoring.**Also worth noting, though it seems less important now, Vermes traded for veteran defender Shavar Thomas to shore up the team's shaky backline that summer. That worked too, but was probably a long-term drain as it stunted the growth of Matt Besler and saddled future versions of Sporting Kansas City with Shavar Thomas.
Vermes pulled the same type of feat in '11, saving KC's season -- and his job -- in the process. Only, it was far more complicated than the year before.
Last May, KC were circling the drain. And that's being kind to anyone who vividly remembers the 4-1 thrashing administered by Los Angeles. It caused me to break out"Fight Club" quotes to rationalize hitting bottom.
**Did I search Google for that link and it include solely because Keg1233 called the post "pure poetry?" If I did, don't judge me. It's been a rough month.
People were openly questioning Vermes' status as technical director/coach. Then, he made the following brilliant minor tweaks that became major factors for the turnaround:
Signing and starting Revolution reject (and local boy) Seth Sinovic,