Even though Sporting KC hasn't been beaten by an MLS team since July 28, it doesn't hide the troubling trend that the team is struggling mightily in front of goal.
Since winning the U.S. Open Cup on August 8th, Kansas City are 3-0-2 and have dominated nearly every facet of those five games. Except, most of the results have been far from convincing.
Of those five outcomes, three matches were one goal wins and two were one-all draws; only twice have KC had a multi-goal game in that span.
Twice Kansas City had to come from behind and needed three post-80th minute goals to earn points.
In those five games, Kansas City took 100 shots and averaged about 62% of the possession. All they have to show for it: Seven goals. Which, actually, is a slightly better goals-per-game average (1.40) than they've carried through the whole season (1.25).
Of the playoff contenders in the East, only Columbus (34) has scored fewer goals than Kansas City (35). Sporting's opponent tonight, New York, leads the East in scoring with 49 goals.
You can call it unlucky. You could argue that the opposing goalkeepers (especially Houston's Tally Hall last Friday) turn in outstanding performances against. You could call it a tactical fluke. But, whatever you call it, it doesn't change the fact that the trend is quite troubling.
Why is Sporting struggling so much in front of goal? I think there are two major factors.1) Kansas City doesn't have a clinical, proven goalscorer.
Kei Kamara, the team's leading scorer with 10 goals, is an all-or-nothing forward who scores goals by relying on overwhelming athleticism and overwhelming attempts on goal (he leads the league 117 shots!).**Compare that to Chris Wondolowski who has 19 goals on 96 shots.
And that's typically good for 9-12 goals a year. Which is quite good and why he's the best option on the team. However, he's right now the only proven and experienced option.
The three other out-and-out forwards -- C.J. Sapong, Dom Dwyer and Soony Saad -- have a combined 73 appearances and 12 goals between them. Sapong accounts for 11 of those goals and 59 appearances. He's currently sitting on a career-best 6 goals this season, but has struggled at times with both his aim and his composure in front of goal.
Veteran winger Jacob Peterson has never been a goal-scoring threat in MLS. In his seven-year career, his best scoring output was four goals in his rookie campaign in 2006. He has three goals so far this year -- which is exactly 25% of his career haul.
Those are KC's only scoring options with Teal Bunbury out for the season. For all his troubles and form-issues, Bunbury has scored almost as many in goals in his career (19) as the Sapong, Saad, Dwyer and Peterson group combined (24).
The team needs to find goals from areas other than its forwards, but hasn't had much success this year. Graham Zusi and Aurelien Collin have pitched in three goals apiece; but Chance Myers and Roger Espinoza, who have spent a lot of time -- and shots -- in the box, are both scoreless on the year.2) Kansas City isn't creating offense from turnovers.
Kansas City is best when it the high-pressure system is a mixture of proactive and reactive. When KC is controlling the ball for 60% of the match, it loses its reactive capabilities -- i.e. counter-attacking chances. As the team lost that balance, it became easier to defend. Opposing coaches have amassed players in the center of the park, bunkered down and limited to KC to speculatively spraying crosses into double-coverage in the box.
You're not gonna set the nets on fire with that approach. I've written about this, at length, already this season (read it here
Quick Match Info
Kickoff against the New York Red Bulls is tonight at 6 p.m. on KSMO-TV.
This is the first of two matches in New York down the stretch (the second is Oct. 20).
Kansas City will be without Bunbury (ACL tear) and Cyprian Hedrick (fibula fracture). Bobby Convey (hamstring strain) is (still) listed as doubtful.
New York is without goalkeeper Ryan Meara (hip surgery) and Roy Miller (groin strain).
Sporting KC has the best road record (7-4-2) in MLS. New York has the best home record (10-0-3).
Roger Espinoza is one yellow card away from a suspension. Which, you have to think, will happen at some point either tonight or Saturday.
An interesting number: Kansas City have scored only four left-footed goals this year. (For the record: 19 have come from the right foot, 11 from headers and 1 form "other.")
Tonight's referee is David Gantar. He's only bossed 14 MLS games.
GK: Jimmy Nielsen-c; DEF: Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; MID: Paulo Nagamura, Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi; FWD: Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong, Jacob Peterson
BENCH: Eric Kronberg; Michael Harrington, Neven Markovic; Julio Cesar, Oriol Rosell, Peterson Joseph; Dom Dwyer
For the record, I wouldn't be shocked if Cesar gets the start and Peter Vermes rides the same lineup as the Houston match. But I think he'll get Peterson back into the starting lineup very soon.
Score PredictionNew York 2, Kansas City 1
. Sporting is good on the road and have enough about them to hang with any team in MLS. However, Thierry Henry is gonna play. He's quite good in his own right. I think KC scores first (Kamara), with Henry bringing New York back with a late double.
MatchDay Hype Song(s)
Thanks to the Travel Channel's dedication to bleeding every last penny they can get peddling Anthony Bourdain's last season on the channel (he's taking his gig to CNN next year), I've been exposed to many of the best of the back catalogue of "No Reservations" thanks to mini-marathon showings. The other night, I got to watch one of my favorite episodes when Anthony visits the high desert and spends essentially the entire show with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme.**When you've got a feature as self-indulgent as this, sometimes this is the only justification you need to pick an artist.
I've dug whatever Homme is throwing down since the first time I put Kyuss' "And the Circus Leaves Town" on my discman back in 1995. That record -- which I bought on a lark because the band shared a name with a character from a D book and it had cool album art -- is a beautifully twisted mountain of badassery. (You know who else loved Kyuss? Tool. They covered the song "Demon Cleaner" at a live show in '98.It's pretty great.
So, my three-headed hydra of hype music all come from the mind of Homme. Enjoy.
Kyuss "Hurricane." This is the title track from "..And the Circus" and it's like sticking your head into a blast furnace. It's all power. Make sure you watch for the fanny-pack dancing chick who shows up at the 1:00 minute mark.
Queens of the Stone Age "Lost Art of Keeping a Secret." Phenomenal song from QOTSA's
Josh Homme "Desert Roll." This song was composed for the "No Reservations" episode and is part of Homme's "Desert Sessions" jam group.