Short on time this week, let’s just jump right into the preview.
Sporting Kansas City (11-5-5) vs. Philadelphia (5-8-8), 7 p.m. at Sporting Park. Coverage is on NBC Sports Network.
Tonight’s referee is Jair Marrufo.
Big Question: How long can this run last?
Kansas City has shown an incredible resilient spirit during its seven-game unbeaten streak. They’ve battled injuries, selection issues, red cards, defensive lapses, early miscues and a few strong-willed opponents. And, yet, have earned 19 points since June.
There’s an unflappable confidence about this team that seems to flow from the MLS Cup victory and the run to get there last year.
Even down a man on the road. “We’re actually going to start the next game down a man,” Vermes deadpanned after the Toronto game. “We’re just going to play a 4-4-1 (formation). That’s what we’re going to do going forward.”
This team knows how to grind out results now. But that confidence will be put to the test as the games get harder (two more games each against D.C. United and New York, a tricky trip to Vancouver, CONCACAF Champions League matches) over the next month.
Can it carry over from game to game? Can it carry over with continued continuity issues? Against Philadelphia tonight, Vermes will likely throw out his 22nd different starting lineup in 22 games. Vermes has given 27 different players a start — through the entire 2013 season, only 24 players got a start.
Grinding out results and relying on mixing player rotations on the fly while waiting for a few players to get healthy isn’t a recipe for sustained success. Of course, Kansas City has no choice but to just that.
Tactical Observation: It takes a midfield to high press
However, the Toronto result might end up providing a false sense of security. Sure, Kansas City won the game and it’s a great triumph of their sporting spirit, but if Toronto had anyone capable of finishing a chance or two or seven, Kansas City limps back home a (potentially heavy) loser.
Dominic Odurro and Jackson, two pacey wingers, carved up gaps that kept forming time and time again, only to falter at finishing.
While Igor Juliao and Seth Sinovic took most of the blame as the outside defenders, Kansas City’s main problem was a midfield that couldn’t snuff out trouble before it became danger and experienced defenders who got caught over-correcting.
Kansas City’s high-pressure system requires all 10 out-field players to do their part to break up attacking movements. No team in the league does it better. However, if the communication and recognition of the midfield is just a step slow, that’s all it takes for a gap to form. This is where Kansas City really misses both Oriol Rosell and Paulo Nagamura.
Mikey Lopez (in his second start) and Lawrence Olum (still learning all of the ropes replacing Uri) simply couldn’t do enough to break up Toronto from building attacks through the middle. Kansas City needed either a hard tackler or a guy who knows how to step into a passing lane and recover possession. They had neither.
Continuity (there’s that word again) is so important to a pressing midfield. Over this streak, Vermes has had to try several different combinations.
Unfortunately, it looks like another midfield threesome is on tap. Nagamura is still hurt; Olum is away on national-team duty with Kenya. Jorge Claros, who was brought in in July, could see his first start tonight. He impressed in limited time against Manchester City and just might be what KC needs to firm up the middle and keep the high press humming along.
Big Number: 6
Red cards issued to Kansas City players this year. That’s two more than in 2012 and 2011 combined (4). Kansas City are 3-2-1 this year when playing with 10 men.
Also interesting: There have been 13 red cards shown (7 to KC’s opponents) in 21 games this season.
Dangerman: Conor Casey
The bulldozer of a striker is on a tear for the Union, scoring six goals in Philly’s last seven games.
He’s got the post-up in the box move back.
As well as cleaning up offensive rebounds.
Sorry, just something about Casey’s play makes me think of basketball.
Why ruin a good thing? Sporting KC’s current four-game win streak features all 2-1 victories. While that streak will come to an end soon, I do not believe it will be this day.