The Full 90

Full 90 Mini-Mailbag: What is Zusi’s best role? Could Sporting KC’s depth be a detriment?

Philadelphia Union forward Sebastien Le Toux (11) tried to slow down Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi (8) as he gained possession of the ball in the first half during the Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia Union Major League Soccer match at Sporting Park on Friday, August 1, 2014, in Kansas City, Kansas.
Philadelphia Union forward Sebastien Le Toux (11) tried to slow down Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi (8) as he gained possession of the ball in the first half during the Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia Union Major League Soccer match at Sporting Park on Friday, August 1, 2014, in Kansas City, Kansas. The Kansas City Star

Earlier this week, we had a Champions League-specific mailbag. In part two, we’ll discuss some more general Sporting Kansas City- and MLS-specific topics.

Let’s get right into it.

Recently, Zusi’s industry and creativity (not to mention his ability to create passing lanes for Feilhaber) has helped shore up KC’s midfield as Peter Vermes has sought to replace Paulo Nagamura. While Zusi is not a spectacular defender, he’s present and strong enough that teams can’t stroll through the midfield with him patrolling there.

It’s helped, but I think it’s a short-term solution.

In my opinion, Kansas City’s ceiling is higher with Zusi as a forward. He’s most effective as a player and the team is more dynamic on attack, when Zusi is allowed the creative freedom to roam from his position and look to stretch the defense with either a pass, shot or movement with the ball. From deeper in the midfield, he doesn’t have that same freedom.

Outside of Dom Dwyer, Zusi is also KC’s most consistent scoring threat — including two goals in the last four games and his is ability to create chances — he’s the league leader in key passes and accurate crosses per game — is a skill-set best utilized on the edge of the box too.

Having him higher up the field also helps space the field with Benny Feilhaber, giving KC two players who can control tempo and create chances in different areas of the field.

Depth is one of the most important assets for a team with a long playoff push on the horizon.

The last two months of the season are such a grind and injuries and fitness problems are bound to happen. Remember last year when Paulo Nagamura went down before the playoffs? Lawrence Olum breaking his leg in the playoffs? Oriol Rosell getting injured during the MLS Cup?

Having a roster that isn’t necessarily sorted into “A” team and “B” team through 24 games has given necessary minutes to guys who might have to jump into the mix on short notice. You never know which of them Vermes might need to trust at the very last minute. It could be Mikey Lopez or Sal Zizzo or C.J. Sapong or Erik Palmer-Brown. All have had a chance to showcase their value to the team at some point this season.

That sort of depth allows for more tactical flexibility to change the focus either in the game or in between matches in a two-leg series. (Remember Vermes had his “road” and “home” forward switch in the playoffs last year.)

Of course, that’s the optimistic approach. A pessimist might point out not having a defined “A” team could lead to some potentially unnecessary over-tweaking of the lineup. But, over-tweaking hasn’t usually been a criticism lobbed at Vermes.

Well, technically, this isn’t a question. But I’ll never pass up a chance to write about this topic.

Sinovic has been Kansas City’s most consistent player over the last three seasons. His positional awareness and recovery abilities are both essential to Kansas City’s high-press.

The secret to Sinovic’s consistency? He’s secretly very physical with his mark.

During his slump — basically a three-game stretch against Toronto, Los Angeles and Vancouver — Sinoic struggled to keep up with pacey wingers and was beaten in most physical challenges. His aggression was either un-focused or easily turned against him. Like this almost goal.

During KC’s 4-1 win over Toronto, however, the old Sinovic was back. He was constantly physical with Dominic Odurro — the very same guy who beat him like a rented mule just three games ago. On the ball (and, on occasion, off), Sinovic would make sure Odurro felt his presence and it took him out of the game.

With the influence of Odurro blunted, Sinovic was allowed to push up field and pressure Toronto’s makeshift fullback, Jackson. The width he provided then allowed Soony Saad a little more room to operate in the channels. Suddenly, Kansas City’s offense looked a lot more dangerous.

The caution here is that Sinovic’s slump likely was due to overuse — only Feilhaber has played more minutes this year in MLS play. The lack of a true replacement if he goes down — both Igor Juliao and Kevin Ellis are right-sided players by nature — means KC has to be careful he doesn’t wear down when they need him most.

Fullback is such a tough position in this league (see previous question). It’s a job that requires peak fitness, a little more physicality than you’d expect, reliable defensive awareness and an aptitude to contribute to the attack. In the modern game, attacking fullbacks (really wing backs) are all the rage — it’s why Tottenham just shelled out for DeAndre Yedlin.

But good teams know that having a reliably consistent outside defender — again, see previous question — is important. And that’s what you get in MLS, reliably consistent.

Real Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran, Los Angeles’ Dan Gargan and, recently, Dallas’ Zach Loyd all spring to mind. They might not have the “sexy” attacking potential of Juliao, Yedlin or Chris Klute, but they aren’t a liability.

Kansas City doesn’t need Juliao to suddenly become Philip Lahm, they just need him to stop being a turnstile that teams routinely pass through on the way to the penalty box.

As the league still struggles with a few transparency issues, at this stage it’s too early to know the rules for the impending two-team expansion draft. All we have for guidelines is the previous two-team expansion draft in 2010. Back then, teams could protect only 11 players, and Generation adidas and homegrown players were exempt from the draft.

In theory, this means Jon Kempin — and, importantly, also Kevin Ellis and Erik Palmer-Brown — should be safe.

I’ve been toying around with the idea of expansion draft rankings for a few weeks — I’m not quite ready for that exercise quite yet — and one of the first big headaches you’ll notice starts in goal. Kansas City has three good ‘keepers.

The solid play from Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum (and Kempin showing that he’s much closer to being ready than many might have thought) could strangely put KC in the odd position of not really having to protect either. Let’s say Orlando City or New York City selects Kronberg, Kansas City could then pull back Gruenebaum and enter the 2015 with him as the starter and Kempin as the deputy. (Or, potentially, vice versa.)

Sure, it’s a little bit of Russian Roulette on KC’s part (and Kronberg has been such a valuable servant for this club it would be a little rough to put him through this), but it could be a way to save another player. Consider: SKC likely has to protect Matt Besler, Sinovic, Aurelien Collin, Zusi, Feilhaber, Jorge Claros, Saad and Dwyer. That’s eight players before even considering guys Antonio Dovale, Ike Opara, Chance Myers and Sapong.

It could get kinda complicated — once we actually know the rules for sure.

I assume you’re talking about these two specific instances:

I think Collin tries to make nearly every play “amazin’” — only, he has the recovery speed and freakish athletic ability to atone for when his aggressiveness goes awry.

On the first video, despite being the last man holding the line, Collin makes the aggressive step up to win the ball back.

On the second, he makes an ill-advised and considerably risky pass with KC firmly in possession. Then, on the subsequent counter-attack, he commits my biggest defensive pet peeve: Holding up his hand looking for the offside flag instead of following his mark’s run.

His aggressiveness and relentlessness are the two very important traits for Kansas City’s pressure system. If he makes the initial play in both instances, the team overall benefits. Thankfully, for now, he still has the ability to atone for them immediately.

Buy a ticket, take the Aurelien Collin ride. It can be both fun and frightening.

To reach Charles Gooch, send email to cgooch@kcstar.com. On Twitter @TheFull90.

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