The Full 90

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Full 90 Mailbag: Is Igor Juliao a defender? Which recent players could be the next Sporting Legends?

07/31/2014 10:39 AM

07/31/2014 3:52 PM

This has been a pretty busy news week in the “Soccer Capital of America.” There’s been a resilient Sporting Kansas City comeback, a little controversy, more injury crisis/selection headaches, a date with the president and the coronation of a few Sporting Legends.

With plenty to discuss, the #AskTheFull90 mailbag was stuffed yet again. Let’s get into it.

Igor Juliao was a popular target on Twitter this week. I have three thoughts.

1. Igor is 19 years old. The modern fullback (really a wingback in this system) is a complicated position that requires a cocktail of concentration, pace, technical ability and defensive awareness. He’s only two years older than Erik Palmer-Brown, and neither are old enough to drink, but they’ve made 15 appearances combined for KC.

2. I seem to remember an attack-first, defend-maybe fullback a few years ago here in KC. This vague recollection of him bombarding up the line while teams counter-attacked down his flank seems so vivid.

Oh, it was Chance Myers in 2011.

Back when Igor was doing whatever Brazilian 15-year-olds do — I imagine it involves soccer — Myers was an attacking winger who many felt would never hack it defensively. It took some time, patience and playing time for him to develop into a two-way player.

Peter Vermes loves pushing up his outside backs (because of the natural width and numerical advantage they can provide in attack) while also asking them to be capable 1v1 defenders out wide. (At times, Vermes has placed Peterson out in front of Juliao to help cover.)

Ideally, this year Juliao would’ve spent most of the summer learning and challenging Myers. Now, he’s really the only option. And, again, he’s 19.

3. This team defends together. While that’s obviously a team marketing slogan, it’s also true. Because of the attacking nature of KC’s outside backs, Aurelien Collin, Lawrence Olum and Matt Besler have to be in a constant state of awareness and recognition. Normally, that means a highly effective pressure system that swats danger away from the penalty box like a hyped-up house cat with a mouse.

However, it can also cause gaps that can be exploited by quick teams like Toronto. And while it’s easy to pick on Igor for letting Jackson have a direct path into the box for the opening goal ...

... a little culpability has to go to Collin and Olum for bunching up and not recognizing (or communicating) the danger posed by Jackson getting a step on Igor. HOWEVER, if you were making the pie chart of responsibility, Igor’s pie slice on that goal looks like Pac-man.

It’s probably also worth remembering the fate of Mechack Jerome and Josh Gardner earlier this season. Both were given chances to start, both were exposed defensively and both are now no longer employed by KC. Neither of them had a drop of Igor’s attacking talent though, and that’s why he’ll get a few more matches.

If he doesn’t succeed, Kevin Ellis and Jacob Peterson are the likely replacements but both have been more useful in other roles. (I think Peterson will likely replace Seth Sinovic for the time being at left back.)

Absolutely. How he’s weathered the injury crisis and not just keep the team afloat but in contention is pretty outstanding. But I think there’s a subtle thing he’s doing that won’t show up in Coach of the Year discussions.

While this has been a year of adaptations, one of his smartest moves has been to accept that his young players will make mistakes. Young defenders Palmer-Brown, Ellis and Juliao have been put into tough, high-pressure spots this season. They’ve not always covered themselves in glory — but Vermes hasn’t been as quick with the hook as he was a few years ago. Ask Besler and Myers how quick that hook came for them.

Part of that is necessity. But it’s also a sign that he’s putting faith in his young players (and how he’s trained them) and allowing them to learn from their mistakes (and how he can correct them). Ellis especially has rewarded that faith with solid play at all four backline positions.

I’m not imagining things, that ref was pretty awful right?

— M. Bradley in Toronto

Even though Peter Vermes had nice things to say about the referee after the game, I think Ted Unkel (in his fifth MLS game) had a poor game.

Collin should’ve been sent off in the first half. It was a foul, Collin was the last man and Gilberto’s first touch (which he was prevented from making) would’ve put him directly on goal. Pretty text book “denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.”

But I also think he got Besler’s first yellow on Dominic Odurro wrong. It was a foul, but there was nothing malicious despite Odurro’s tumble worthy of grade-school gym class. Unkel was also fairly inconsistent with his whistle despite the 38 fouls and six yellow cards

This was a really big Eastern Conference game and played at a really exciting level. It needed a more experienced referee in charge.

Ok, I had to make this question up. I really thought someone would ask about it, but apparently no one wants to read my Simon Borg impersonation.

Without question. In fact, I can’t believe this hasn’t been memed already. So, here’s this and this. Go crazy.

To me, Peterson is the Peter Vermes/MLS version of Park Ji-Sung (in his Manchester United days) and Dortmund’s Kevin Grosskreutz. High energy, reliable, versatile, flexible and defensively-responsible in five positions. When Vermes needs a little grit, hustle and intensity, he turns to Peterson (or, The Answer).

I get that JP isn’t the best finisher when called upon (though, last Saturday he was), but he does a lot of other stuff right that often goes unnoticed. (There is more to soccer than scoring goals. Like, say, helping prevent them.) While he’s nominally a forward, I always argue he’s a defensive midfielder no matter where he lines up.

He’s been much more than a forward this year though, having spent time on both the left and right wings, a little spot duty in midfield and at both fullback spots. I actually think he could become a pretty interesting wingback option this season should injuries persist. (I also don’t have the numbers to back this up, but KC hasn’t lost very often when Peterson is on the field with his blue headband.)

No you aren’t. His movement off the ball this year has been very good to go with his obvious hustle/grit/flexibility traits. Also, he’s got this whole “clipping a waist-high ball into the ground with his heel to set up an attacking move or goal” down pat.

He set up both goals with smart positioning and movement. I love how he keeps enough space between himself and Dom Dwyer on the first goal, remaining an option the entire time.

After Saturday, I would’ve said Toronto (with Jermain Defoe) was the biggest challenge. As I write this on Wednesday night, I’m going to say yes, it’s definitely D.C. United.

I’m impressed.

Besler is already a no-brainer. Zusi will be before he’s done.

My picks: Jimmy Nielsen and Davy Arnaud. Aurelien Collin has a good shot if he sticks around. There’s an outside chance that Seth Sinovic will play high-level leftback for a decade in KC. And, as long as fan-voting remains a big element, you can’t rule out Kei Kamara (really good, but not sure if he played long enough) and Dom Dwyer (too soon).

CommunityAmerica Ballpark was a good home at the time, but now seems worse because of how good things are with Sporting Park. It was like the first apartment you get after leaving college. Good, but you wouldn’t ever dream of raising your kids there.

How about this for an idea: Why don’t we enshrine both Birahim Diop Game(s) into the Sporting Legends club? As long as we’re adding coaches who are currently still coaching, I don’t see any reason why we can’t get an actual game up on that wall. This is my wish.

It’s like “The Highlander” of Kansas City hat tricks.

Oh, I think I kind of let this get a little out of hand. Boxers, though.

I have never watched a minute of “The Bachelorette” or “The Bachelor” — and neither has Mrs. The Full 90 — but I have watched enough of “The Soup” to get the general concept. Which is why I have to go with Soony Saad.

For a show like that you need someone handsome, a little mysterious, likeable, confident in his own ability and with enough self awareness to know that it’s sort of a big joke. Soony’s got that. And it’s that last qualification that eliminates my other leading candidate, Collin.

***

Thanks for the questions, apologies that I couldn’t get to all of them. Maybe next week.

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