Ask The Full 90 is making its glorious return this week after a sabbatical of sorts, and there’s much to discuss following Sporting Kansas City’s third straight win to open the season.
But before we get started, let’s talk MLS, and specifically how absurd it can be at times. ESPN FC released its annual player poll on Tuesday, and on the condition of anonymity, 123 current players were surveyed on various questions, including the league's most overrated and underrated players, as well as which coach for whom they most wanted to play.
Here’s where it gets a bit ridiculous: Benny Feilhaber is the 10th most overrated player, according to those polled.
That’s right, an MVP finalist last season who tallied a staggering 10 goals and 15 assists in 32 league appearances (!) – a guy who was owed less than $400,000 in 2015 and played a significant part in a MLS Cup playoff run – is said to be “overrated” by a number of his peers.
Never miss a local story.
Feilhaber’s fierce competitiveness must not jive well with others. That, or Real Salt Lake and Jurgen Klinsmann joined forces to stuff ballots.
OK, now that’s out of the way, let’s get to your questions:
Both? OK, I understand that’s a cop-out answer.
I’d have to go with nine points through three matches, if only because of the setting and opposition. Matches involving Sporting KC at CenturyLink Field tend to be a bore, and it’s even worse when you’re there. (I covered the club’s MLS opener in Seattle in 2014, and believe me, I was almost put to sleep). It’s the one venue where Peter Vermes isn’t afraid to totally park the bus and play for a draw, so I fully expected that to be the case this season. Instead, Sporting KC let the match open up and amassed 14 shots on 559 passes, earning the game-winner on Nuno Coelho’s shot from distance.
Despite playing at home the last two weekends, I figured Sporting KC would manage a draw and fall to either Vancouver Whitecaps FC or Toronto FC. Those are two clubs with offensive firepower capable of changing the course of a game or putting one away for good. Both should factor into the playoffs this fall.
All of that being said, having yet to concede a goal in the run of play against that quality of opposition is exceptionally impressive. The backline has been organized, with the Coelho and Matt Besler pairing looking like one of the strongest in the league. Tim Melia has only been forced to make nine saves, and Chance Myers is back to full health and making plays.*
*Amadou Dia has been fantastic, too. And don’t forget the fact that Ike Opara, Seth Sinovic, Kevin Ellis and Saad Abdul-Salaam have yet to log major minutes (if at all).
#DwyerIsland was a thing far too often last season, and bits of it were present on Sunday against Toronto FC.
While there may be some merit to such concern, it’s important to note Dwyer’s lack of touches had to do with how Sporting KC was playing in the first half. The opening 45 minutes looked more like a chess match than soccer, with neither side all that interested in being aggressive. Even Sebastian Giovinco only touched the ball nine times for Toronto FC. It’s not like Sporting KC was trying pushing forward and missing Dwyer in the process. The home side simply wasn’t interested in forging an early attack given the likes of Giovinco and Bradley on the other side.
Anyhow, a major area of improvement in Dwyer’s game evident so far this season has been his ability to drop back into the space in front of the midfield. This has allowed him to receive the ball consistently, and also set up teammates (recall the through ball to Connor Hallisey against Seattle).
With Feilhaber set to return soon, #DwyerIsland shouldn’t be a regular theme. It’ll creep up now and again, mostly due to the rhythm and tactics of certain games, like it did on Sunday, but it usually doesn’t tell the whole story.
Evan is referring to the second installment of ESPN FC’s anonymous player poll, in which 28 percent of those surveyed said Children’s Mercy Park has the best/most intimidating atmosphere.
I know this is going to be an unpopular opinion, but when it comes to professional sports, I don’t believe opposing athletes are affected by home crowds all that often. There are exceptions, sure, especially as it pertains to rookies, but it’s my belief that by the time athletes are professionals, they’ve been through the gauntlet that is playing at intimidating, road venues.
Of course, this isn’t the case at the collegiate level. As a soon to be graduate of Kansas State, I’ve seen firsthand how Allen Fieldhouse’s atmosphere absolutely causes visiting teams to crumble under pressure. I’ll also forever remember Kansas players reveling at Bramlage Coliseum and “Sandstorm” during a timeout several years ago, to the point that it changed the course of the game.
But at the professional level? I just don’t think it’s that big of a factor for opposing teams. That’s not to take away from The Cauldron and South Stand and the rest of Children’s Mercy Park, though. It’s a special atmosphere that certainly deserves recognition as one of the best in North America. And I do think the crowd plays a factor to some degree in pushing Sporting KC along during games. But when it comes to psyching out the other team, I just don’t see it.
This isn’t confirmed, but I was made aware that on one of the recent home broadcasts, Feilhaber apparently said he was good to go and that the club was simply not going to push him with the bye week coming. This would make sense, and I would expect him to play against Real Salt Lake on April 2.
As for who fills in the best for Feilhaber, I’ve been quite impressed by Jordi Quintilla. Peter Vermes has been as well. He’s nowhere near the dynamic playmaker that Feilhaber is, but he’s very good on the ball and understands his role well. A big reason for his progression so far this season, according to Vermes, is simply him becoming accustom to the style of play in MLS. I’d expect Quintilla to make 20 or so appearances in league play in 2016.
Really good question, Johnny. Hallisey has mostly gone unnoticed through three games, which may be the biggest compliment you can give the young attacker. The stat production is still lacking for a player at his position, but he’s no longer arriving at challenges late or getting caught too far up the field to adequately transition back into defense. I’m not sure what the future holds for Hallisey this season, but injuries and multiple competitions could see him earn time. At the very least, Vermes has been impressed with his improvement.
I think there’s going to be shuffling from now until August, when the MLS season really starts to ramp up. Between adjusting the club’s training regiment to talks about reaching peak fitness later in the season, I think Vermes is opting to shuffle his lineup early to rest guys more frequently. That means more starts for guys like Dia, Quintilla and Hallisey. The club touted its depth during the offseason, and now it appears it’s going to lean on it through the summer. That’s a solid strategy, in my opinion, given the team’s form in August and September the last two seasons.
Little has been said of Diego Rubio since his loan announcement on March 8, mostly because he’s been training with the club, getting familiar with the system and his new teammates.
However, he’s already had some impressive moments in training.
Sam and I actually spoke about Rubio on Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park. With the upcoming break allowing more time to adapt to the squad, I wouldn’t be surprised if the young striker is in the 18 for April 2’s match. As for his loan, I think Vermes has already made his mind up on Rubio’s future. That just seems to fit his personality mold – an inherent ability to read players. The loan option merely allows the potential buyer to barter on a price once the loan period comes to an end. We’ll see when that time comes at the end of June.