The Full 90

How important are the next four games for Sporting Kansas City?

Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber (10) makes a play for the ball past Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, April 11, 2015.
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber (10) makes a play for the ball past Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, April 11, 2015. AP

Sporting Kansas City currently sits near the bottom of the MLS Western Conference. It’s early in the season, of course, but the next few weeks could make or break Kansas City’s attempt at a rebound season.

Let’s hear it from the Tweets.

If you’ve been listening to me on the Talkin’ Touches podcast (check it out this week for good stuff from my co-host Andy Edwards and I) or read my Twitter feed/blog for a few years you know that I like to preach about not panicking in April/May.

The MLS season is a long, long journey and you can’t make many definitive assumptions about what might happen at the end at this stage. You know who’s good, who needs work and who needs a lot of work. But six teams in each conference will make the playoffs and we’ve seen more than a few instances of a team coming from the depths of a spring swoon to make a playoff push. (Heck, KC did it not that long ago.)

Just for kicks, I looked up KC’s record through the first seven games since 2011 (the road trip year) and how the season finished.

2011: 0-6-1 (1 point), lost in Eastern Conference finals*

2012: 7-0-0 (21 points), lost in Eastern Conference finals

2013: 4-1-2 (14 points), won MLS Cup

2014: 3-2-2 (11 points), lost in Eastern Conference play-in game

2015: 2-2-3 (9 points), ???

*Another interesting, but not-exactly-meaningful, trend is KC’s record in May under Peter Vermes. It’s gotten a bit better over the last few years, but since taking over as coach in 2010, Vermes is 5-12-8 in the month of May.

There really isn’t an overriding trend on how performance now relates to KC’s playoff ceiling. Play awful? Use a long home-stand to push the playoffs. Come out of the gate like hot fire? Drift back to the pack in early summer, but get it together in September/October for an Easter Finals run.

The only common denominator? KC made the playoffs the last four years no matter the seven-game start.

Is that streak in danger this year? Not yet. But the top-to-bottom tough Western Conference at least makes this a conversation topic. With three Eastern Conference teams looming (along with the Western Conference cellar dweller), it’s important for KC to start picking up points.

@Houston (Saturday)

A team that struggles to score (six goals through seven games, three in one match against Montreal) but is stout defensively (tied for league best with four goals allowed).

Chicago (Sunday, May 3)

The Fire have solid pieces (Harry Shipp for starters), but have failed to convince through just five games. A very winnable game for KC.

@D.C. United (Saturday, May 9)

Currently one of the top teams in the East, United won’t be a pushover. They aren’t a sexy team (only 11 goals have been scored by either team in their six matches), but they’ve been hard to beat the last two years. A draw would be a good result.

Colorado (Saturday, May 16)

A shocking 4-0 result against Dallas notwithstanding, the Rapids have been pretty bad. In the five other matches against not-Dallas, Colorado has just one goal. This is a game KC must win.

Kansas City really needs to pick up seven points from those games — nine to 10 would be outstanding.

Why? The schedule gets REALLY tough after that. New England, at Seattle, FC Dallas, Seattle and at Real Salt Lake between May 20 and June 21.*

*Oh, and during the month of July — when KC will likely be without Matt Besler and Graham Zusi (United States), Marcel De Jong (Canada) and Roger Espinoza (Honduras) for the Gold Cup — KC has to travel to Vancouver and Salt Lake, while hosting Montreal. Yikes.

In MLS, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is this is always true: Win the games you can when you can.

Luis Marin has yet to fully impress me as well. He seems tentative to start the game (especially true against Los Angeles) and has been very poor at times coming off his line to claim crosses/corners/set-pieces. Also, his distribution has yet to live up to the preseason advertisements.

However, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s his seventh game in the league — a foreign league where he’s still learning the primary language. He’s also had five different defensive groups in front of him in seven games. That’s a lot of change directly in front of him.

As for Jon Kempin, I’ve not seen enough of his games down in San Antonio to have a fully-formed opinion. The stats aren’t great through two games — five goals allowed, including this spectacular goal scored by Indy Eleven last week.

Poor Baby Puma.

He was an unused substitute in the U.S. Under-23 team’s 3-0 win over Mexico this week.

Let’s talk more when there are a few more games to dissect.

Languishing? Not really. Starting-caliber CBs don’t really grow on trees (as we discussed a bit last week).

If Vermes is going to look for an inside-the-league acquisition to fill Ike Opara’s boots, he’s going to have to search very hard — and likely have to give up quite a bit to get someone. (Everyone knows that KC is looking. That drives up the price.)

Throw in that most teams tend to employ just three senior-team CBs anyway, and it becomes even harder to figure out a target.

You have to throw out the top-end guys that would be the most desirable — Dallas’ Matt Hedges, Vancouver’s Kendall Waston, LA’s Omar Gonzalez, etc. Those transactions aren’t happening.

Also, there are a few young CBs that teams would really expect a heavy premium to deal — D.C.’s Steve Birnbaum, New York Red Bulls’ Matt Miazga and Colorado’s Shane O’Neill. (Who and what could KC trade to acquire one of those guys? Certainly draft picks, roster spots and allocation money alone wouldn’t quite do it.)

Given those likely constraints, there are a few potential targets — none of them I’d consider starters. New York City’s Josh Williams, Colorado’s Bobby Burling (but only if O’Neill is healthy) and San Jose’s Ty Harden.

That’s about all I can truly find. A more likely scenario would be to look into the lower leagues for a depth guy with MLS experience (San Antonio’s Nana Attakora would be a guy I’d look at) or an international transaction (a la Aurelien Collin a few years ago).

As I understand it, there isn’t an academy kid ready to make the jump at this point and sign a Homegrown contract (a la Erik Palmer-Brown).

However, I’ve heard there might be some prospects currently on the U-16s. The team thought highly enough of Colombian (by way of Nashville) midfielder Felipe Hernandez that they brought him into preseason training camp in Arizona this year. Hernandez has drawn rave reviews from some inside of KC’s youth set-up and compares his game to Benny Feilhaber.

Sorry for the truncated mailbag this week, we ran across some extenuating circumstances. Thanks for all the great questions, we’ll try to get to more of them next time.

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