Sporting Kansas City travels to Yankee Stadium to take on New York City FC for the first time. Here’s the Full 90’s tactical preview.
Kickoff is at 6 p.m. on KMCI-TV (locally) and SKC TV (in the Midwest) from Yankee Stadium.
Three Things about Sporting KC
▪ What’s wrong with Kansas City’s attack?
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Through three games, Kansas City has scored just two goals, appeared flat at times and last year’s leading scorer Dom Dwyer has yet to get going. What gives?
Well, I think I found a stat that, surprisingly, boils the problem down to a lack of sharpness.
Kansas City is averaging 15 shots per game (second-most in the league*) but just 3.3 shots on target per game (sixth-worst in the league). Both numbers per WhoScored.com.
*Columbus — with shot-friendly Kei Kamara on board — leads the league in shots per game with 19.5! They also lead the league in shots on target with 6.5. How is that possible?
Kansas City is even getting shots in the danger zone (the area directly in front of the goal), with seven against the Portland Timbers. Just, somehow, not accurately enough to challenge the keeper.
Under Vermes, Kansas City tends to churn out a lot of high-shot games. Shots aren’t very useful if they aren’t accurate. To get KC’s attack (and also Dwyer) back on track, Vermes needs his team to figure out their collective aim again.
▪ Don’t plan on using width to attack
New York City FC plays in Yankee Stadium. It’s a fantastic looking stadium (and great for its first purpose, baseball) but the dimensions are anything but ideal for soccer. It’s incredibly short and narrow.
How small is the field? It’s both the shortest field (110 yards long) and the most narrow (70 yards wide) — which is the minimum allowed by FIFA for international-level matches. Only BBVA Park in Houston is that narrow, but is five yards longer; RFK Stadium and Providence Park are both 110 yards long but are standard width.
Historically, KC has struggled with either a narrow pitch or a team that funnels KC into playing without width (think the Dom Kinnear Houston Dynamo teams at BBVA in years past).
Kansas City won’t have a lot of room to play long balls in this game, but they also probably won’t have the room to play wide possession-based soccer either. This is the only game in New York this year, does Vermes have a specific plan in place just for this game?
▪ KC must replace two starters
Marcel De Jong (Canada) and Roger Espinoza (Honduras) will both be absent because of national team duty. Replacing De Jong shouldn’t be as big of a hurdle — Seth Sinovic should slot back in at left back. However, Espinoza should be a bigger challenge.
Does Peter Vermes revert to last year’s formation — Benny Feilhaber and Paulo Nagamura with a defensive midfielder like Servando Carrasco behind them? Or does Feilhaber continue his role as deep-lying midfield playmaker with someone like Bernardo Añor (or maybe Carrasco higher up) moving in next to Nagamura? Does Vermes bring back the double-pivot? It seems unlikely for that to work without Espinoza.
I think another option might be the most interesting: A three-man midfield of Feilhaber, Nagamura and Graham Zusi with Añor and Jimmy Medranda (who has impressed the coaching staff) out wide. Why drop Zusi back? The narrowness of the field nullifies one of Zusi’s best open-field weapons (passing from wide positions). And, with possession coming at a premium, adding a hustling and technical midfielder to the middle could only help matters.
Three Things about NYCFC
▪ David Villa must be watched closely
This, of course, is like warning someone that water might be wet or too much bourbon will get you drunk. Of course he must be watched closely, he’s the leading scorer in the history of the Spanish national team.
However, organization has been a defensive liability for Kansas City at times over the last few games (and during a lot of 2014). It’s especially troubling since it’s very likely that KC will be using its fourth different back line (with De Jong gone and Jalil Anibaba likely getting a second start at right back) in four games. Getting that line on the same page and making sure that Villa isn’t finding gaps and/or open space anywhere along that line should be the No. 1 concern for KC.
Kansas City will need to separate Villa from his supply line (and let him drop deeper into the midfield where he is effective, but less dangerous) to blunt the NYC attack.
▪ Mess up the Mix
This season, Mix Diskerud has been an interesting addition to Major League Soccer. He’s completed 90 percent of his passes over three games as he helps Jason Kreis and New York control the ball.
However, he wasn’t a factor against Colorado last weekend, mostly because the Rapids were able to keep him stuck in the midfield and moving mostly sideways or backwards. Kansas City can live with Mix completing 80 percent (or more) of his passes as long as those passes aren’t helping NYC move the ball into the attacking third.
Look for Kansas City to use Nagamura or even Feilhaber to try and disrupt his rhythm in the middle. I suspect that a hard (and legal-ish) foul or two wouldn’t hurt.
▪ Kreis vs. Vermes II: Rumble in the Bronx
Because Kreis left Real Salt Lake after the 2013 MLS Cup to join and help guide New York City during the run-up to this season, this will be the first rematch between the two coaches since that cold, cold night at Sporting Park.
While it’s a totally different team — though, Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert will be alongside Kreis — it’s the first chance Kreis will have to seek his revenge.