The Full 90

Full 90 Mailbag: Is Sporting Park’s sellout streak in jeopardy? Does KC need Roger Espinoza back?

Houston Chronicle

For the first time in a few years, Sporting Kansas City finds itself in two unfamiliar places in October: Looking up at two teams in the Eastern Conference playoff race and watching the attention of Kansas City turn toward the surprising Royals.

We’re living in bizarre times, Kansas City. Let’s open up the mailbag and see what else we can get into.

You forgot the Landon Donovan send-off game with the United States against Ecuador, which might pull away some U.S. soccer devotees. But, your point is well taken.

Sporting KC’s relative poor form (especially at home) comes at a time when this entire city seems to be stricken with Royals fever. (The Jayhawks remain a draw for a large portion of this region, and the sun also rose this morning.)

Sporting KC kicks off on Friday night against the Chicago Fire (a rival, but one already eliminated from the playoffs) at 7:30 p.m. (It’s not an NBC Sports Network game.)

The first pitch for the Royals first American League Championship Series game since 1985 is at 7 p.m. in Baltimore. (At least it’s a road game.) Late Night in the Phog — the University of Kansas basketball tipoff at Allen Fieldhouse — starts at 6:30. The USA-Ecuador game starts at 6 p.m. — which means some could watch all of Donovan’s 30-minute testimonial and not miss any of the KC game.

I don’t just wonder about a more relaxed atmosphere though, I wonder if the Sporting Park sell-out streak is in jeopardy.

That’s an awful lot of competition at pretty much the same time and it could be hard to reach 52 consecutive sellouts… but, I’ve been surprised by Sporting KC fans a few times before.

Obviously, the Roger Espinoza talk has been hot the last couple of days, culminating in Peter Vermes telling The Star that he’s been talking with the Wigan midfielder, but a deal isn’t done. (And the team won’t pay a transfer fee for him.)

While Espinoza isn’t exactly what KC needs (in this current incarnation at least), he would replace something Kansas City has lacked: Intensity. As much as I like Paulo Nagamura, Espinoza is a younger and more energetic version — who offers a little more in attack — and could provide a very direct element to the midfield. He’s a recovery monster who gets to know each blade of grass on the pitch personally.

Hypothetically: If KC is keeping Jorge Claros as the defensive midfielder, putting Espinoza and Benny Feilhaber in front of him would make KC a very mobile and hard-to-break-through midfield. Claros can sit between the lines to break up play, Feilhaber can handle the distribution/possession duties and Espinoza can fill in whatever gaps might emerge.

As for the other ex-Sporting fan-favorite who left for Europe, I’m glad to see Kei Kamara back in MLS and I think Columbus is the perfect team for him.

The Crew need a fire-and-forget forward to get on the end of passes from Wil Trapp and Federico Higuain. Kamara might be the best fire-and-forget forward in recent MLS history. He’ll come good next year.


The Crew used their top spot in the allocation order to sign him. If KC wants him, the Crew will demand a lot in return. And I don’t think Kamara is worth what it might take to get him back.

The other thing? I don’t think you can line up Dom Dwyer and Kamara together. Both are “final destination” strikers, in that they usually wind up scoring (or taking a shot) instead of trying to create a chance. (Dwyer has just 1 assist this year; Kamara had only 2 in his last abbreviated stint in KC in 2012 — neither played a minute together that year.)

Dwyer’s 20 goals this year are nine more than Kamara’s best-ever season in MLS.

For fun, I think the Top 5 most popular of the SKC era? 1) Kamara, 2) Aurelien Collin, 3) Jimmy Nielsen, 4) Davy Arnaud and 5) Graham Zusi/Matt Besler — or Maham Zusler.

Kamara, given his personality and proclivity to throw impromptu snowball fights, was a no-brainer. Collin has been the closer (and the loudest cheer) during the pre-game highlights package. Nielsen was a man of the people. Arnaud is a club legend honored by all of the pre-SKC folks — and will one day join the Sporting Legends. And Maham Zusler is the two-headed local DP juggernaut.

I think Espinoza and Dwyer are right on the fringe. Igor Juliao didn’t receive enough votes for consideration.*

*Poor Jimmy Conrad just missed out on the Sporting era. He’d be my Number 1 if he had stuck around for a year.

The roster freeze was Sept. 15. No team can add players after that date, which means KC will have to rely on Kevin Ellis as the primary backup for all four defensive spots.

It has to be the back six. The offense is as capable as ever under Vermes (though, noticeably absent the last match on the road), but the defense has been leaking goals at an alarming rate since August 1 — almost 2 goals allowed over the last 10 games!

It looks like Vermes will ride with Andy Gruenebaum — the right call after Eric Kronberg looked super rusty against New England — in goal. That should stabilize things a bit. Getting Collin back and healthy (and not playing like he forgot how to defend) will be huge too — Matt Besler, down since returning from the World Cup, has been a much better player with AC next to him on the pitch.

But a lot will ride on Lawrence Olum and Juliao stepping up. With Claros suspended for the next two matches (maybe?), Olum will have to be a rock in front of the back line. When he’s not been good, KC hasn’t been good.

Juliao has been an adventure all year at right back. He’s showed some signs of improvement in the defensive third, but without any safety net at all anymore, now is the time to get it together.

Yeah, about that suspension. I’m pretty sure it happened (I saw it and screen-capped it and he didn’t make the 18 in D.C.), but his name isn’t on he disciplinary report anymore.

Why? He used “inappropriate language.” What did he say? Your guess is as good as mine and Peter Vermes’.

If he was in fact suspended for three games, I think it was likely for saying something either racist or homophobic. I’m not sure if that’s what it was for, but the league has adjudicated harshly for that sort of offense in the recent past. I’m not sure he’d get three games for anything less than that to be honest.

Should the league shut down Chivas next year (as has been reported in various outlets), that would leave the league with 20 teams — 12 of them in the Eastern Conference with Orlando City and New York City coming in next year. So, the smart money would be on Houston and KC heading out West. And, well, the West is stacked.

It’ll be tough but, if Vermes has an offseason to work with that in mind, he has proven capable of building a team to compete. (Also, KC likely won’t have the added hassle of Champions League matches like LA and Seattle likely will.)

Speaking of this topic, I quite like the plan Mike McGrew threw out on Twitter the other day.

Swap Toronto/Montreal for D.C./Philly in that plan and I’m in.

As authentic as a blogger who was in The Cauldron for the first Diop Game, the ice bowl against San Jose and the home debut of Pablo Escobar — but not quite as authentic as someone who had season tickets in ’96 or remembers Miklos Molnar’s goal.

However, since your question is goading me to respond to this New York Times piece, I’ll bite and make a response: I wish the author had used a word other than “authenticity.” Nothing rankles MLS fans (a group that tend to wake up in a “ready to rankle” mood somedays), quite like the “a” word being lobbed around.

I wish he’d used the word “competitive.” David Villa and Frank Lampard are/will be brilliant players. New York is laying down a big marker brining them in. But importing foreign talent doesn’t help with authenticity.* It makes the league more competitive. Which, despite taking shots at the departed David Beckham, is what the author was trying to point out anyway.

*It certainly doesn’t hold up to dictionary scrutiny when you consider the club is being modeled almost directly after its parent club Manchester City!

As always, a fine batch of questions again this week. You guys are great.