Not going to mince words to start this off: Sporting KC was pretty awful against D.C. United.
In his post-game comments, coach Peter Vermes didn’t mince his words either.
In one of the biggest matches of the season — both teams sit atop the Eastern Conference — Kansas City delivered its worst overall performance of the season in a 3-0 loss.
After a fairly even opening 20 minutes, D.C. United opened up the scoring by beating KC’s high defensive line three times in less than 10 minutes. United was comfortable in absorbing pressure and kept Sporting grasping at chances for the last hour.
It’s a big statement win for United, currently the top dog in the Supporters’ Shield race. For Kansas City, it’s a game best filed away for further study, as United uncovered some issues that Vermes and his coaching staff will need to figure out.
Let’s delve into three talking points from the game.
1. KC’s home form is current home form is troubling
While you can make the excuse about KC’s travel and fatigue from the CONCACAF Champions League or off days for Graham Zusi/Matt Besler/Dom Dwyer/etc., it’s hard to wrap your head around this stat: Sporting KC is 5-2-6 at Sporting Park this year.
Last year, Kansas City struggled with its home form as well, but managed to get it sorted out come playoff time. It’ll need to do that again this year apparently.
Bad games happen from time to time — though, not usually or often at Sporting Park.
That’s another stat that’s hard to wrap your head around too.
2. D.C. United is for real
This isn’t a surprise — teams with 40+ points at this stage in the season can’t be taken lightly. But, the way United won is pretty rare.
Teams have come into KC and won points before.
D.C. United came into Sporting Park and beat up KC. That doesn’t happen very often. (Last time I remember it being this noticeable was Houston in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals.)
United out-dueled (64 > 57), out-fouled (12 > 8) and out-shot (16 > 12 overall, 5 > 3 on target) Kansas City and dominated all three phases of the game.
Bobby Boswell (not coincidentally, a starter on that 2011 Houston team) marked Dom Dwyer out of the game. Fullbacks Taylor Kemp and Sean Franklin kept KC’s wide players relatively quietly — and restricted to toothless crossing and not the more dangerous cutting in.
The majority of Kansas City’s decent shots came from long distance — and KC did get quite close.
On defense, Aurelien Collin seemed genuinely befuddled by Fabian Espindola; Igor Juliao couldn’t even begin to handle Chris Rolfe.
And, in the midfield, former Wizard Davy Arnaud and Perry Kitchen bottled up KC’s dynamic midfield of Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber with a smart application of pressure and physicality.
For good measure, goalkeeper Bill Hamid put in a comfortable and commanding performance to earn the shutout.
The word you’re looking for to describe this win: Comprehensive.
3. The danger of playing with a high line
A major facet of Kansas City’s high-pressure system is a high defensive line. It’s a risky defensive posture, as it often leaves acres of open space in front of the goalkeeper. Using it requires organization and understanding — all of which abandoned Kansas City in the first half.
Full credit to D.C. United and coach Ben Olsen, this team setup to play KC’s high-line perfectly. United made smart runs into the gaps and played KC’s aggressiveness against them.
This is United’s second goal.
Chris Rolfe — who, along with Fabian Espindola, must have viewed KC’s back line sorta like two lions stalking a herd of gazelles — times his run perfectly right between Igor Juliao and Aurelien Collin. When KC struggles to close down Luis Silva, Rolfe is off to the races with no one to slow him down.
Just look at the field ahead of him when Silva (the man of the match in my opinion) plays the ball.
Such a risky posture. Of course, it bit KC again just about three minutes later.
Here’s where Perry Kitchen — he’s the middle guy in the frame in the center circle being trailed by Lawrence Olum — starts his run for the third goal.
Here’s what happens when both Besler and Collin push up.
Kempin could’ve done better on both breakaway goals, but it’s really asking a lot of a 21-year-old making his second start to effectively do a Manuel Neuer impersonation.
Gif of the Night
Espindola’s move to open up KC’s defense for the first goal was a metaphor for the entire evening — KC appears to have United bottled up, only to falter at the wrong moment as D.C. wriggles free.