Say you make a sandwich for lunch every single day. It's a staple of your diet. Now, say every time you go to your fridge/pantry all you have -- every time, no deviation -- is bologna, single-serving sliced American cheese, Miracle Whip and white bread.
You make the sandwich. You eat it. But you’re bound to get sick of it ... eventually.
This isn't to say bologna and American on white bread isn't a great option for a tasty little lunch. In some situations, it's just what you're looking for. But every single time? After a week (maybe two at most), I'm guessing you're out of your mind dreaming of a trip to Jimmy John's or Planet Sub or contemplating a deli-counter audible for some oil-browned chicken and baby swiss. Anything but the exact thing you've been starring at each and every time you wanted some grub.
Imagine now you're Peter Vermes. You're looking down at your bench in 2010 and looking for options to change the game. You've got a few dependable and versatile do-something guys like Josh Wolff, Jack Jewsbury and Graham Zusi (bologna), a few slices of good-in-small-doses guys like Birahim Diop and Chance Myers (American cheese) and the same-stuff-different-taste guys like Korede Aiyegbusi and Jonathan Leathers (yep, Miracle Whip cause they aren't quite real mayonnaise like Jimmy Conrad and Michael Harrington).
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The only time Vermes had a slightly different option was early in the season when he had Craig Rocastle (some horseradish sauce) or when Teal Bunbury (medium-rare roast beef) was figuring out his skill set. But those two often found themselves, necessarily so, were often starters.
Which left Vermes with the same group of players to tactically change the game.
Of course, you could make the point that Vermes should've known better. After all, he was the one doing the grocery shopping.*
Searching for Options
From July 31 forward, here are the substitutes (and number of times used) by Sporting Kansas:
So, as you can see, Vermes made a lot of bologna and American cheese sandwiches.
I don't want this to seem like an indictment of Jewsbury. Every team needs a guy who can play multiple positions -- last year, I called him the Swiss Army Knife. He's necessary for a team and KC is better off having him which is why they didn't let him go in the expansion draft. Jewsbury was the best option off the bench to settle a game or deal with an injury.
But, when Kansas City was chasing a result (and Bunbury was in the starting lineup), they really had no one to turn too. (Before you argue about the merits of Diop, know that all of his goals  were scored when he was a starter. He's a big lad and needs time to wear on a defense and not as useful as a sub.)
2010 Wolff wasn't the same as 2006 Wolff. Zusi is capable, but limited. And Myers is, well, Chance Myers -- he's a fragile fullback playing the wing.
Changing the Game
There are a myriad of reasons to bring on a sub, but when you boil it down, they really serve two very basic tactical purposes: Score goals and prevent goals.
KC was actually pretty good at preventing goals ... well, after halftime at least. Of the 15 goals scored against KC after the Manchester United friendly (when KC was at the peak of representing their potential as a team), only four were scored in the second 45 minutes. Of those four, two came when the game was ostensibly over (Dallas scored in 81st minute already up 2-1; San Jose pulled 1 back down two goals before losing to KC 4-1). The other two goals were Seattle's quick-fire double on Oct. 9.
Scoring goals in the second half? That was the problem. All season long, KC scored 21 second-half goals. Want to guess how many were scored by substitutes? Five. Bunbury had 2, Kamara 1, Wolff 1 and Jewsbury 1.
To further underscore this point, Kansas City only twice rescued points from a game they were trailing: A 1-1 draw with Philly (a game played without the service of Kamara) and the 4-3 Houston game (which was an insane game that saw KC battle back twice before winning in stoppage time).
If you can't bring on a guy who can change the shape of the game (like Kamara and Bunbury, who the team needed as starters), you can't find results. Down the stretch, needing to win to make the playoffs, Sporting couldn't find the steel to overcome early deficits to Dallas, New York and New England.
They couldn't change the game, because they didn't have any game changers.
Basically, KC weren't deep enough to keep pace.
Build a Better Bench
More players means more diversity of talent. More diversity of talent means more competition. More competition and more diversity means, theoretically, a better bench.
There are 30-35 players competing to make the roster this year. (Several of them are trying to win starting spots on defense, which is definitely priority No. 1.) Among them are plenty of new guys that Vermes says could push established starters. Which could push current starters to the bench. Which means there's a good chance that players with game-changing skills could be on the bench.
The players with game-changing ability on the 2011 roster: Bravo (great nose for the goal, he'll start), Bunbury (strong/fast/ready to burst, should start), Smith (creative/flashy, could start), Kamara (leading scorer, should start), Auvray (creates transition offense with his tackling, should start) and Rocastle (best passer/calming influence, should start).
All six of them could start. But what if you move Kamara to the bench? Isn't he exactly what you want in a bench striker? He has the humility to accept the role, the fitness to immediately jump into the game without being in the flow, a nose for the goal and a mindset that doesn't let him get hung up on missed chances (remember the Miss of the Century didn't affect him at all).
Having him on the bench down 1-0 would be a lot better than the 2010 version of Wolff (who didn't fit the system and had lost the one thing that made him special, his speed).
But Kamara isn't the only option. Bunbury could reprise his role as a super-sub, though it's unlikely. Smith could be pushed to the bench by trialist Adda Djeziri, who has the size and skills on the ball make him a game-changer candidate on the bench himself. Judging by last week, rookie C.J. Sapong could grow into a super-sub as well. Hopefully, guys like the possibly incoming European attacking midfielder and Ecuadorian Franklin Salas have game-changing skills too.
Meaning the team could go into 2011 with no less than 10 players who have game-changing potential.
You might say that Vermes took a better shopping list to the store this offseason.
Which should put a few different options in the fridge. Er, on the bench.Tactical Thinking is a weekly exploration of soccer tactics and the technical side of Sporting Kansas City. Today's wasn't
reallya tactical column as much as a team building column. You say tomato, I say ketchup.