The Full 90

Full 90 mailbag: What’s next for Tim Melia? Is Soni Mustivar the answer for Sporting KC’s midfield?

Three days after inclement weather forced the first soccer postponement in Sporting Park history, Sporting Kansas City and Colorado have settled on a makeup date: Oct. 21.
Three days after inclement weather forced the first soccer postponement in Sporting Park history, Sporting Kansas City and Colorado have settled on a makeup date: Oct. 21. Special to the Star

This has been a busy week so far on the blog — Instant reaction from the Sporting KC-Chicago Fire match, a fresh Talkin’ Touches podcast, the debut of brand new KC Star mobile app (get Extra Time KC for iOs and Droid) and a look at Benny Feilhaber’s MVP credentials (in blog and video form).

It might seem like there isn’t that much left to talk about. But, you’d be wrong. This week, readers brought the thunder with a wide variety of topics to explore. Let’s begin.

The simple answer: He’s a guy who had a good game against an inefficient Fire attack, made three good saves (and one that didn’t count because the attacker was offside) and seemed very confident coming off his line late in the game.

Melia wasn’t the second-coming of Jimmy Nielsen, but he was a stabilizing force for Kansas City’s backline after Luis Marin seemed to lose his confidence in matches against Los Angeles and Houston.

Fine. But I’ve been burned in the past by reading too much into one or two performances early in the year (see also Escobar, Pablo and Smith, Ryan), so I’m not going to jump to conclusions.

Peter Vermes — as usual — was tight-lipped about discussing lineup decisions this week. But there are two things I’ve learned about Vermes over the last five years.

1) He likes to ride players in good form and, 2) he rewards players who train hard during the week.

We talked a lot about Melia’s performance (and what comes next) on this week’s Talkin’ Touches podcast. I think he will get another chance this week to start (because of #1), but that Marin will get a chance over the coming weeks to prove himself and recover (#2).

What Vermes will likely want to avoid the return of a rotating ‘keeper situation like last year — and the controversy that nearly always surrounds that rotation. Goalkeeping form in soccer is dependent on reps — and eight games isn’t really enough to condemn an experienced ‘keeper like Marin.

For now, Melia is the guy. But there are multi-game weeks and Open Cup games coming up real soon. Marin could eventually find his way back into the team and Melia could easily settle into the role of above-average spot starter — but he’s now shown he can at least push to be more than that.

The white argyles actually don’t conflict with ANYTHING that Minnesota wears this year.

I might be misjudging the situation slightly, but I’m pretty sure the only reason KC brought out the white jerseys* was to avoid having to wear training tops during the inevitable KC-Minnesota match in the Open Cup this year. (That happened last year, in case you’ve forgotten.)

*Or, maybe it’s because I’ve heard that the crisp all-whites are already selling well. (Yeah, it’s probably that.)

Well, the Erik Palmer-Brown option is off the table right now as he’s headed to the Under 20 World Cup.

Thus far, Peter Vermes has shown little interest in moving Jalil Anibaba inside — and showed as little interest since last year of moving Ellis outside. (I personally think that PV would rather Ellis’ covering speed in the middle rather than vice versa.)

With the MLS international transfer deadline fast approaching next week (May 12) — and KC could only sign players who have had their contracts terminated anyway — an outside option seems unlikely at this moment.

There have been some rumors of American defenders potentially headed stateside — mainly, Birmingham duo Will Packwood and Jonathan Spector. I don’t think either is the answer — as it looks like Packwood is headed for New England and Spector is probably too expensive (likely DP-level) and his skill set is a bit redundant with Matt Besler.

The most likely option — an unpopular one in certain circles I’m sure — is that Vermes is going to have to rely on Ellis getting stronger. (It’s worth noting that Ellis has had some decent games at CB this season and is still learning that position.)

Or he’s going to have to get Chance Myers back to health soon — which I believe is the only thing that might allow Anibaba to move back inside.

OK, I read Matthew Doyle every week — and would really like if someone could get the March to the Match podcast back. His perspective as a neutral general analyst of the league as a whole is invaluable. (I won’t turn this into a tactical beef.)

However, there are three guys in the Sporting KC pressbox (Andy Edwards, Sam McDowell and myself) who raised their eyebrows (either literally or figuratively) at either this tweet...

... or at the #3 point on his weekly column.

I don’t disagree with his overall assessment. Kansas City has two very excellent two-way midfielders in Benny Feilhaber and Roger Espinoza. They don’t need a superstar DM behind them, just someone who does the ncecessary and un-sexy stuff to help retain possession and protect the backline. A Kyle Beckerman-like role if you will.

Mustivar did those things pretty well — and I’d be a hypocrite if I praised Paulo Nagamura for years for doing those sort things and didn’t appreciate when someone else did them too. It’s not a coincidence that Feilhaber and Espinoza/Nagamura played extremely well. Mustivar deserves credit.

But there’s more to it for this particular team/formation than just doing the small stuff.

Being the defensive midfielder for Vermes’ version of the 4-3-3 is a demanding job with lots of covering.

At its core though, it’s a firefighting role. Whenever there’s a fire in the defensive half (which happens a lot with high pressing) it’s that players job to find it and put it out. (If you can sniff out that fire BEFORE it even starts, all the better.)

Julio Cesar and Oriol Rosell were both exceptional at this part of the position. Lawrence Olum, Nagamura and Feilhaber all struggled with it last season.

And here’s where my assessment of Mustivar’s game (thus far in his MLS career) differs a bit from Doyle’s. Mustivar put out some fires, but he also started some. (Given the opponent in this game, the analogy is fairly ironic.)

Mustivar is the guy making the desperate attempt at a recovery slide there — but he’s in that situation only because he vacated his spot in the middle to double team David Accam with Anibaba.

Attempt a dummy 25 yards from goal? Yikes. It’s a good thing that was Shaun Maloney trying to get to that ball and not Harry Shipp or Accam. That could’ve been a disaster.

Now, two isolated plays don’t totally ruin a performance. I just can’t completely buy in on a player who is trying to be a firefighter and still at times acts like an arsonist.

I’m guessing he can clean some of that out of his game in the coming weeks. And I’m also guessing that there’s a pretty decent chance that Doyle is going to turn out being right. (He often is.)

I just don’t see it quite yet.

It was attempted a few times last year, but Nagamura’s instincts (much like Espinoza’s) tend to pull him further up the field than is healthy for KC’s backline and he lacks the recovery speed to make up for his voyages.

I sort of was half-kidding, half-serious in my instant reactions on Sunday night about placing a $10 bet on Nagamura starting this weekend in D.C. I won’t rule it out, but I’m not sure PV will mess with Mustivar-Espinoza-Feilhaber quite yet.

Unlike Paulo, this wasn’t the first time I’ve lead with my head. So, I’ll give it to him. At least until the video of me bashing my head on the railing in front of the press box surfaces. Then people will be very impressed with my ability to lead with my head right into a stationary object.

You can still see the bump/bruise in this week’s video with Sam McDowell.

As always, thanks for the questions. Enjoy your weekend.

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