The frustrations were obvious when Peter Vermes picked up the phone Saturday night in Commerce City, Colo., and began a spirited postgame press conference call.
First and foremost, he took issue with the refereeing, not just in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids, but over the course of the last two weeks. He pointed out specific plays, asking reporters for their thoughts before concluding with his take.
As for the concerns with his team following a third-consecutive loss, specifically Benny Feilhaber acting a deep-lying midfielder, Vermes didn’t budge.
“None,” he said. “I have no concerns with my team.”
Feilhaber is among the most productive players in Major League Soccer with eight goals and 13 assists in league play this season, yet he hasn’t been able to control Sporting Kansas City’s attack since Soni Mustivar picked up a groin strain on Aug. 15.
To compensate for Mustivar’s absence, and his ability to shield Sporting KC’s back four, Feilhaber has dropped back in the midfield. The team has utilized Paulo Nagamura and Mikey Lopez there during this time, too, but Feilhaber has provided the most consistency.
And while consistency is a good trait for any team, Sporting KC’s creativeness in the attack has taken a hit as a result.
In fact, since Aug. 15’s 4-3 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Feilhaber has put just one shot on goal on an average of one shot per game. For the quality he provides going forward, that’s startling.
Below is Feilhaber’s night passing the ball Saturday. Note how many passes are either backwards or side to side.*
*When things are clicking for Sporting KC offensively, Feilhaber is dropping dimes up the field to forwards in dangerous positions. He’s one of the best in the league doing so, and it makes Sporting KC a much more exciting team to watch.
Feilhaber is best utilized on the front foot. He demands attention, which, in turn, opens up space for his teammates.
On the back foot, Feilhaber isn’t able to create, and that typically leads to Sporting KC bombing balls up the field in hopes Dom Dwyer or Krisztian Nemeth will make something happen. It also means Sporting KC has to squash consistent pressure rather than here-and-there counterattacks or the rare, successful long through ball.
And as evident in the last three games, Sporting KC is average at best when holding to those tactics.
Of course, this won’t be an issue when Mustivar (and Roger Espinoza) return. The dynamic is entirely different with him in the lineup, including how Feilhaber attacks the game.
But as seen Saturday night and early this season, Sporting KC struggles with its attacking midfielder acting as a deep-lying midfielder. In my opinion, that does warrant concern.