Sporting Kansas City picked up a huge 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday. Afterward, the Red Bulls' Tim Cahill had some unflattering things to say about Kansas City.
"I don't think there's anything special to their team," the Red Bulls designated player said.
Sour grapes from a highly competitive player? Yeah, probably. (He also complained about KC's physicality and bristled at Peter Vermes' assessment of the 1-1 draw the two teams had last month.) But does Cahill have even the slightest, teeniest, tiniest speck of a point?
He might. With almost no exceptions, every man on Sporting KC's roster either came from out of nowhere to achieve his current spot or was had been written off by almost everyone. Consider how not "special" these players are/were/have been.
Kansas City's leading scorer, Kei Kamara, was essentially handed to Kansas City for the mere cost of memorable striker Abe Thompson and some cash.
Graham Zusi, who leads the league in assists with 14, was a lightly-thought of second-round pick who didn't earn a regular spot in KC's starting lineup until June last year. (He's now a regular member of Jurgen Klinsmann's U.S. men's team camps.)
Jimmy Nielsen, the team's goalkeeper and captain, was on the verge of retiring in his homeland of Denmark before getting the call to come to KC.
Aurelien Collin struggled to find work in his native France, Scotland and Portugal before settling here. Matt Besler found a spot on KC's bench before finally adapting his game to Peter Vermes' standards.
You can run down all of the regulars and nearly every one of them carried some kind of baggage or were the subjects of harsh criticism before coming to KC.
Roger Espinoza was too reckless to be effective. Chance Myers was one of the worst busts in MLS SuperDraft history. C.J. Sapong was a massive reach with the #10 pick in the 2011 draft. Seth Sinovic was cut by cellar-dwelling New England. Julio Cesar has more entries on his resume (15 teams in 10 countries) than he has fingers and toes (presumably, but I've not counted, 10). Paulo Nagamura was an injury-risk past-his-peak midfielder looking for a steady job. Jacob Peterson was a once-rising star that fizzled out in three places. Bobby Convey was the great American hope who flamed out.
There's no designated player in KC -- one of three teams to not carry that kind of player this year along with Colorado and San Jose.
There's no marquee American player -- Zusi is the only national-team regular, and he is a fringe player at the moment.
There's not even a realistic MVP candidate on the roster -- though Nielsen is a lock to compete for MLS's top 'keeper.And yet
Kansas City heads into Montreal this afternoon with a four-point lead on Chicago in the East, the league's best road record and a goal differential of +12. They're also chasing franchise records for most regular-season (non-shootout era) wins (16) and points (57). Both of those marks were set in KC's 2000 MLS Cup season.
With just five matches left in the season, the only MLS team with a better record at this point is San Jose (who are just 3 points better). So, the Supporter's Shield is also still in play for this team of not "special" players.
The credit, obviously, has to go to Peter Vermes and the front office. He and they put together a versatile roster of hungry, lightly-regarded players.**Those sort of players, by the way, are the perfect fit for Vermes' high-pressure system. By contract, New York's Hans Backe couldn't dream of convincing high-paid name players like Rafa Marquez to press like Nagamura does. He can barely convince Marquez to care for 90 minutes it seems.
The rest of the credit goes to the players themselves for putting in hard work on both sides of the ball all season and adapting their games (sometimes against their natural inclinations) to fit with the high-pressure game plan.
On Wednesday, we saw what Kansas City are capable of when they brought supreme balance (defensive rigidity behind offensive fluidity with Espinoza and Nagamura ebbing between the two extremes) to the greater New York metropolitan area.
The team that showed up Wednesday, with all apologies to Mr. Cahill, is a team that might not be special, but is capable of special things.
Quick Match Info
• Kickoff is nice and early today -- 12 p.m. on KCTV -- in Montreal.
• Kansas City is sitting on 54 points with a record of 16-7-6. If they keep on form (averaging 1.86 points per game), KC could end up with about 63 points on the season. The franchise has never topped the 60-point barrier.
• Kansas City is a little banged up right now. Teal Bunbury (ACL tear) and Cyprian Hedrick (fibula fracture) are listed as out. Paulo Nagamura (foot sprain) is doubtful; Jacob Peterson (hamstring strain) is probable; and Lawrence Olum (groin strain) and Seth Sinovic (ankle sprain) are probable.
• Vermes will have to make at least one change from Wednesday night, as Roger Espinoza is suspended for yellow-card accumulation.
• This is the rubber-match between KC and the Impact. Montreal shocked Sporting in May with a 2-0 win at Livestrong Sporting Park while KC won 301 in Montreal 3-1 in July.
• An interesting number: Montreal has allowed a stunning 16 goals after the 76th minute this season. (Kansas City has scored seven goals after the 76th minute -- three have come since the start of August.)
• Today's ref will be Jorge Gonzalez. He has worked two KC games this year, the 1-0 win over Los Angeles on April 7 and the 1-0 win in Toronto on Aug. 18. He's bossed 85 MLS matches in his career.
• Marco Di Vaio, Montreal's Italian striker, has five goals in just 13 MLS appearances and has scored in four-straight matches.
Given the quick turnaround from Wednesday (and with another massive match coming at home next Friday), I'd expect Vermes to rotate his charges a bit. This match could be an excellent change to get Oriol Rosell some more minutes -- perhaps replacing the doubtful Nagamura. I'd also like to see Dom Dwyer and Neven Markovic pick up minutes, but perhaps only as substitutes. And, hey, Bobby Convey didn't show up on the injury report!
GK: Jimmy Nielsen-c; DEF: Michael Harrington, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; MID: Oriol Rosell, Julio Cesar, Graham Zusi; FWD: Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong, Jacob Peterson
BENCH: Eric Kronberg; Chance Myers, Neven Markovic; Michael Thomas, Peterson Joseph; Bobby Convey, Dom Dwyer