In case you missed the announcement on Twitter earlier this week, this is my last week with The Star — and running this here blog. But fear not. We shall go out with a mailbag. (And the blog will also continue on without me.)
I’ll count down some of the biggest moments in my seven years around the Sporting KC/Wizards, look at some key players for the Vancouver-KC match on Sunday and look at some of the roster moves that might be looming.
Let’s light this candle one last time. (Until Sam McDowell finds the time to take over.)
There have been so many over the last seven years. I’ll boil it down to three for the sake of relative brevity. (And to prevent myself from getting too emotional.)
3. Touring Sporting Park days before the home opener
David Ficklin — a good friend of the blog and Sporting’s vice president of development — walked former co-worker/graphic artist Dave Eames and I through the stadium during the final stages of construction. The field was in place, the seats were almost all in and construction workers were buzzing all over the area putting in the finishing touches.
You could almost see it. How the sight-lines would come together, how the stadium would fill up, how the fans would crowd the edge of the pitch, how the noise (and, we’d later learn, fireworks smoke) would hover just inches above the seats.
It’s easy to take for granted now (60+ sellouts including hard-to-draw Open Cup games), but Kansas City was just about to become a soccer city at that very moment — we just all hadn’t quite realized it yet. (Actually, Ficklin had realized it. That guy knew all along what was going to happen.)
2. The Birahim Diop Game
If you’ve followed the blog since the early days (the Ink days), you know that I have a soft spot in my heart for one Birahim Diop — the always-smiling journeyman defensive midfielder turned emergency striker in 2010.
The date: August 21. The opponent: New England Revolution. The problem: Kansas City’s starting striker (rookie Teal Bunbury) was suspended and Peter Vermes didn’t have a lot of options on the bench to replace him. The solution: Diop.
It was the most random and stunning thing I’ve ever seen in person. Diop hadn’t scored an MLS goal in eight years. EIGHT YEARS! And he scored two in the first 26 minutes (and assisted on another) in a 4-1 romp that wasn’t as close as you might even think. Inserting him into the lineup was such a shock that Down The Byline’s Mike Kuhn physically accosted me in the stadium when it was announced. (Sorry Mike, I love telling that story.)
There wasn’t a ton to smile about in 2010 — and his career would fizzle before faltering altogether two years later — but Diop gave the fans in attendance at CommunityAmerica Ballpark a life-long memory to always smile about.
1. The MLS Cup Final in 2013
While this is an obvious choice, it’s also the only time I’ve ever witnessed a championship live and in person. So, it wins. It took me about two days to thaw out (and I’m a weirdo who actually doesn’t mind cold weather), but it was all worth it.
But what stands out to me most isn’t the Aurelien Collin goal, the penalty shootout, the silence in the crowd during the PKs, the Jimmy Nielsen slip, the trophy presentation, the post-game festivities or anything from the stadium itself. Those were all excellent. But my favorite moment was after it all at Three Points event space above SKC headquarters (thanks Callum Williams, I owe you one forever). There I saw so many behind-the-scenes people (past and present) who never got a ton of attention from the public (PR guys, ticket reps, designers, marketing, advertising, Cauldron organizers, etc.) lift and drink from the MLS Cup.
Such a wonderful scene. (And I couldn’t talk or write about it until now.)
Honorable mention: Davy Arnaud scoring a long-range bomb at Arrowhead spoiling the first David Beckham Game; the Manchester United friendly; watching a cow score a goal at Sporting Park; The Oriol Rosell game; The Diop Game (Part 2); seeing Francesco Totti, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in person; asking Alex Ferguson a dumb question about lineup selection; Claudio Lopez scoring from beyond midfield against LA; Dom Dwyer’s goal against Houston in the Eastern Conference Finals; watching Matt Besler and Graham Zusi arc from little-regarded players to representing the U.S. at the 2014 World Cup; the Swope Park Rangers game that got me blocked from following Chance Myers on Twitter; and every single interaction I had with Jimmy Conrad/Davy Arnaud/Jimmy Nielsen/Kerry Zavagnin/Peter Vermes/Seth Sinovic.
In all sincerity, it’ll be the mailbag. I spend more time on it than I probably did anything else over the last 8 months on the blog.
Not in writing form — but Andy Edwards and I will still be producing the Talkin’ Touches podcast every week.
Ok, enough with the sentimental stuff. Let’s talk some actual soccer.
As of right now, there’s no timetable for his return. According to Sam McDowell, he just started to intensify his running program. Concussions are really difficult and no two are really that alike.
These are probably the two teams I watch most often and will be looking forward to it — 8 p.m. on Sunday on 38 The Spot.
The players to watch for KC are easy: Benny Feilhaber is having an amazing season, Dom Dwyer just dropped four goals against Dallas and Matt Besler currently isn’t with the U.S. team (so he can anchor KC’s defense and toss in dangerous long-throws).
▪ Matias Laba is the defensive midfielder most likely tasked with corralling Feilhaber. If you like holding midfield play (which, spoiler alert, I do) he’s one of the best in the league for that. He breaks up play, messes with creative players and launches attacking moves — sometimes all at the same time.
▪ Pedro Morales is the architect of all of their best attacking moves. He’s fun. He can do things like this:
▪ Kekuta Manneh might be a cheetah disguised as a human soccer player, he has the name “Kekuta” on his jersey and is the single most exciting player I can think of in MLS in the open field not named Fabian Castillo.
▪ Kendall Waston is Aurelien Collin. But scarier. And better.
Is it a “forced” blind draw that every team has to enter? Because, isn’t that the only way that any front office enters into a draw to “win” Adu?
How about this idea: MLS instead signs Adu as a “pool” player and starts a reality YouTube series about his travels through the league. It starts with Don Garber randomly selecting an MLS team (like, Colorado) for Adu to train with and join — with zero implications to the salary cap. If (or, more likely, when) that training stint falls apart (they always do)*, MLS will then assign him to the next team in the allocation order. And so on. And so on. Until Adu has trained with all 20 teams.
*His wikipedia entry reads like a bizarro version of a televised travel show — only without the luxury destinations included. His professional career started in 2004 — the same year I started at The Star. I’ve been at this job for 11 years, he’s had 12 professional teams in the U.S., Portugal, Brazil, France, Greece, Turkey, Serbia and Finland in that same exact span.
The team that figures out how to keep Adu in camp the longest gets to win a roster concession of their choice. Let’s call it: “Without Further Adu.”
You’d watch that show and you know it.
Considering that the U.S. is riding high off wins over Germany and the Netherlands, that the tournament is on home soil and that Mexico is in transition … I think anything short of winning the whole tournament would be a disappointment for Jurgen Klinsmann.
The group should be a tough one by Gold Cup standards (Panama, Honduras and Haiti), but the U.S. got past the toughest test of this stage with a hard-fought 2-1 over Honduras this week. (Haiti is Friday night.) I’m not sure exactly what to take away from that game, as this Honduras team is the embodiment of the Twitter joke “CONCACAF’D” — rough tackles, simulation, broken plays, etc.
The Gold Cup is always a tournament based on endurance and not style. On paper, the U.S. has the best chance at survival. We’ll see how it plays out.
I think it helps the team a lot. Even though KC doesn’t have one of the highest payrolls in the league, it does have three designated player-level contracts already on the roster — Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza*. The ability to add another player at or above that line (like, say, Marko Marin) opens up a few different doors for Peter Vermes.
*As Sam McDowell has reported in the past, Espinoza was at least brought in on DP-level wages. Though, we don’t know, because the MLS salary dump has been delayed by the CBA negotiations. I would imagine that this “targeted allocation money” might help as well.
Being able to add a player at that level (which doesn’t count any more against the salary cap) could free the team up to add more pieces as well — like a third goalkeeper and some added defensive depth.
I think the obvious spot is an added attacking player — either a true winger (like Marin) or a central playmaker (as in the chase for Raphael Van Der Vaart). While Sporting KC has certainly been fine with the Feilhaber-Dwyer-Krisztian Nemeth-Graham Zusi group (not to mention solid contributions from rookie Connor Hallisey), they could use another option up there.*
*An option that isn’t Jacob Peterson, who is a very specific defensive-minded option.
When you look at the teams competing at the top end of the league this year, those teams have multiple options in attack. Kansas City is awfully thin when you get past the Starting XI and, as was the case throughout May and June, one injury to Dywer/Nemeth/Zusi leaves almost zero attacking options on the bench.
I would guess the second spot Robb was discussing was central defense. Even though Kevin Ellis has taken the urgency out the search to replace Ike Opara’s roster spot, I still think KC needs an extra body there. Whether that body is a starting-level defender or simply a depth acquisition, I don’t know. But KC has 18 more games this season (and potentially three more matches to chase the U.S. Open Cup). The likelihood that they’ll need an additional defender over that period is fairly high.
As always, thank you all for the questions today and for the last year. It’s been a fun journey.