The buzzword around Sporting Kansas City’s practice last week was “balance.”
A lack of balance defensively resulted in a bounty of counterattack goals allowed the last two weeks in losses to the LA Galaxy (2-0) and Portland Timbers (3-2).
It’s no secret that Sporting KC, which had a run of five consecutive shutouts before leaking five goals in the last two games, needs to achieve better balance to return to the win column.
“It’s recognition of situations,” coach Peter Vermes said. “The players understand what those concepts are. It’s whether or not they actually implement them at the appropriate times of the game. That comes down to repetition and constant training, watching video. We do a lot of that week after week. Would I say there was a lot more emphasis at times this week? Yeah, sure.”
Sporting KC’s aggressive style makes it particularly imperative that the team maintains its shape on the field.
Left back Seth Sinovic and right back Chance Myers, who led all MLS defenders with seven assists last year and scored two goals off set pieces in the loss to Portland, are heavily involved in Sporting KC’s attack by design.
The duo provide width to the attack, stretching the opposing defense across the field and creating space for the forwards and attacking midfielder Benny Feilhaber.
It’s a crucial piece in how Sporting KC plays and something that won’t change.
“Just because we’ve given up two goals and then three goals doesn’t mean we’re going to change and sit everyone behind the ball,” centerback Matt Besler said. “We still need our outside backs to get forward. That’s the way we play and our style, but we need to focus a little more on the counterattacking.”
There’s no mystery to the recent troubles.
“On paper, it’s pretty simple — one (outside back) goes forward and one tucks in a little and hangs back a little more,” Sinovic said. “But sometimes you get lost a little bit in the game and we both get caught forward. Unfortunately, that’s what happened a few times against Portland and we got punished for it.”
Sporting KC has become accustomed to consistent possession through the midfield, which allows Sinovic and Myers great freedom to charge up and down the flanks.
When Sporting KC isn’t as consistent in its possession, as has been the case the last two games, it leaves the backs exposed — especially when Portland kept three and, at times, four players goal-side waiting for turnovers and chances to pop a counter.
“We have to find the right balance between the time we have to drop and go easy, waiting for the other team to make the game, and those moments we can be more aggressive,” centerback Aurelien Collin said. “The last couple games, we’ve been too aggressive and … we were losing the ball too much through the middle. The other teams were faster and stronger than us and gave us problems.”
Reining in Collin, who has a tendency to push too high up the field at times, is key as well along with better communication.
“(Besler) and I are the heart of the defense and we have to make sure we control the whole team and communicate enough with the rest of the team to avoid these mistakes again,” Collin said. “We were maybe overconfident the last two games, so we have to put ourselves in front of the mirror, see what we did bad and do everything we can to correct them.”
And now, we’re back to that buzzword.
“It’s balance,” Besler said. “That’s what we’ve talked about. Even when we’re attacking, we’re still defending. That has to be in the back of our minds. That’s one of my main jobs when we go up field, making sure our numbers are in the right spots and the balance is right.
“It’s an easy fix, but it’s an important fix. If we don’t fix it, we’re going to be exposed again this week. We’ve talked about it a lot and worked on it a lot. The talking is over. Now, it’s time to go out and do it.”