The Full 90

Where does Omar Bravo fit?

Full 90 singing sensation Charles Gooch is off this week, but we managed to uncover one of his writings. It could be the most important archeological finds in the history of the world (and a basis for “Indiana Jones 5: The half-hearted effort to make a pile of money.”)

We present it here for you:

When Sporting Kansas City takes the field in March, chances are there won’t be a radical realignment of the team’s foundation. That’s not to say there won’t be changes, there will be. But the team is happy with the current foundation on, as Robb Heineman is fond of saying, “a go-forward basis.”

It’s not out of the realm of discussion to argue that The Team Formerly Known as the Wizards (TTFKATW) was a few breaks here and a few breaks there from being in the playoffs in 2010. I’m particularly thinking of that stretch in April-June when there wasn’t enough money in Qatar to buy a victory.

Which is why the signing of Omar Bravo is so important. He’s a cultured striker (126 goals for both club in country since 2001) who still has a few more years left (he’s only 31). He’s also the type of player that has the ability to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Something the current foundation is definitely lacking.*

*The current foundation (i.e. Players we know at least have a spot in the team’s starting XI rotation): Keeper Jimmy Nielsen (who has reportedly been re-signed); fullbacks Michael Harrington (same deal as Nielsen) and Roger Espinoza (who was a revelation switching from midfielder to left back); midfielders Stephane Auvray (the team’s engine), Ryan Smith (the creative sparkplug), Craig Rocastle (a rough-and-tumble enforcer with a deft passing touch) and Davy Arnaud (the team’s heart and soul); and forwards Kei Kamara (leading scorer, offensive MVP) and Teal Bunbury (prized young player who came on strong in mid-season).

Obviously, a source of great concern this off-season is going to be central defense. The team signaled their intention already leaving six defenders unprotected in the expansion draft (and lost one in Jonathan Leathers) and refusing the options on Jimmy Conrad and Aaron Hohlbein (who was selected by Columbus in the re-entry draft). Currently, the team has three central defenders under contract: Shavar Thomas, Matt Besler and Nikos Kounenakis. Not exactly a murderer’s row.

But I’m not here to talk about shoring up the center of defense. We know the team is going to bring in at least one defender (they put discovery claims in on seven) and are actively exploring trades for a specific position (which is likely DC). We’ll have plenty of time to discuss this situation when we know who is and who isn’t on the team.

What I do want to talk about is where Bravo, a guy we know will play if healthy, is going to fit on this team.

This team struggled to score goals last year. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. The team was so pathetic in this category, that Birahim Diop has a two-goal game in mid-August and he was suddenly the second-coming of Preki.**

**I’m joking. Kinda.

But there were positives: Kei Kamara took to the right wing role much better as the season progressed and he learned how to attack from new angles; Teal Bunbury, while still a little bit raw, has an incredible set of tools (i.e. speed, strength and flair); and Ryan Smith was, at times, the most creative player in the league with his foot on the ball.

You would think, given another off-season to develop, Bunbury could turn into a real force in MLS. The same can be said about Smith. It was, by far, Kamara’s best season as a pro.

That’s four forwards to make three spots. The good news though, is that a 4-3-3 like the one Peter Vermes installed last year to create pressure on the ball and flexible options going forward needs a few things, but none of them more important than a versatile, interchangeable and deep front-line. They didn’t have that in 2010. Despite the plethora of strikers on the team, after the three mentioned above, Diop (a converted defensive midfielder) and Josh Wolff (a speed and guile guy who no longer has the same speed and can’t get by on guile alone) were the only two options on the bench. Neither offered flexibility.

Bravo does. His insertion into the starting lineup and, theoretically, taking over the mantle of KC’s best attacking player gives them flexibility and strength. It won’t hurt that pushing one of the three attackers last year down a peg on the pecking order improves the bench and gives Vermes more pieces to play with. Consider:

Say KC starts the game in a 4-3-3 with Smith, Bravo and Kamara across the top. If the opponent is succeeding in shutting off the middle of the field, Vermes has the pieces on the field to shift the team into a standard (read: wider) 4-4-2 with Bravo playing off Kamara and Arnaud pushed to the right. He could also change the attacking angle with a more modern 4-2-3-1 leaving Kamara alone up top with Smith, Arnaud and Bravo arrayed in any conceivable configuration behind him.

In this example, Bunbury (who will definitely be a year older, wiser and stronger) is the team’s impact substitute. But what if Bunbury continues his ascension and pushes for a starting spot.***

***There’s an intriguing possibility that Bunbury actually shoves the team’s leading scorer and offensive MVP, Kamara, to the bench in the preseason.

So, here’s another example: A 4-4-1-1 with a midfield of Smith (left), Arnaud (center), Auvray**** (center) and Kamara (right) with Bravo tucked in behind Bunbury at top. Going forward that could morph into the aforementioned 4-2-3-1 or even a quicker 4-3-3 with Bravo assuming Arnaud’s role in 2010. In this example, the bench would theoretically have Diop, Rocastle, Jewsbury and Zusi to bring on.

****It’s worth noting here that in 2010, Auvray was asked to play sweeper in front of the defensive line. If that group solidifies in 2011, we could see him pushing forward a lot more often, as he did for Guadeloupe in the Caribbean Cup.

No matter the formation or where he plays, Bravo will likely be the second or third name on the team sheet (behind captain Davy Arnaud and ‘keeper Jimmy Nielsen). What will be interesting to look forward to during the preseason is how the pieces fall into place around him.

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