The Full 90

Tactical Thinking: Searching for the right pair

Against the New York Red Bulls, with all four central defenders on the roster available selection, Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes picked the two newest players; Aurelien Collin and Julio Cesar.

Has Vermes finally landed on the pair of central defenders he has been searching for? It's hard to tell. They were the two players the team sought out in the off-season, both have the specific skills Sporting wanted for this system. But, Vermes has a somewhat turbulent record selecting a steady pair of centerbacks.

In his 48 games as manager, Vermes has started 9 different central defenders in 13 different combinations.

Larry King has had better luck with wives (he’s on just No. 7) than Vermes has had with centerbacks.

The most frequent pairing was Jimmy Conrad with Shavar Thomas -- which occurred last season after the team acquired Thomas to stop bleeding soft goals. The next most frequent pairing was Conrad with Matt Besler.

Here's the full list of all of Vermes' pairings, ranked by number of appearances together.

15: Conrad-Thomas, 6-6-3 (W-L-T) ... 1.134 (Goals/Game)

12: Conrad-Besler, 5-5-2 ... 1.25

5: Conrad-Pablo Escobar, 1-2-2 ... 0.8

3: Conrad-Aaron Hohlbein, 1-2-0 ... 1.667

3: Besler-Cesar, 1-1-1 ... 1.334

2: Besler-Escobar, 0-1-1 ... 2

1: Conrad-Rauwshan McKenzie, 0-1-0 ... 1

1: Besler-Hohlbein, 0-1-0 ... 2

1: Hohlbein-Matt Marquess, 0-0-1 ... 2

1: Besler-Roger Espinoza, 0-1-0 ... 3

1: Besler-Collin, 0-1-0 ... 2

1: Cesar-Collin, 0-1-0 ... 1

So, what can we make of those numbers? Well, first KC hasn't been that great (15-23-10) and they've allowed a fair number of goals (62). I realize that central defenders aren’t the only ones responsible for allowing goals, but really, they have one major job (stop goals) and there’s only one reliable stat to show their effectiveness (goals allowed).

Second: Consistency is key. When two defenders were thrown together for just one game (or two), they almost always lost (just two draws out of 8 times). It makes sense as more than one of the one-time duos was the result of an injury or emergency situation (i.e.: The Besler-Espinoza pair or Conrad-McKenzie duo).

Third: The most effective pair in terms of goals allowed per game? Conrad and Escobar. Sample size is everything.

Fourth: Besler has had more defensive partners than Lindsay Lohan has had second chances. He's played 22 games as a starter under Vermes with SIX different players. Which sort of makes the yo-yo ride he took last week somewhat obvious in hindsight and slightly troubling. How does Vermes expect a defender to gain consistency when he’s constantly having to learn a new partner’s habits.

Imagine if you had a new roommate every month. Stands to reason that it will get tiring. One month you’ve got to write your name in marker on all your food, the next you have to guess whether the new guy drank the milk straight from the carton. (In that analogy, Escobar is definitely the guy drinking Besler’s milk from the carton.)

Fifth and finally: Vermes, a former MLS Defender of the Year, is difficult to please.

Conrad left after the team deemed him too expensive and not the right fit; Hohlbein was deemed surplus to requirements.

Besler and Thomas, the second- and third-most used defenders under Vermes and the pair that ended 2010 as the starters, have now been relegated to the reserves.

Vermes said during preseason that rebuilding the defense was a top priority -- and he looked overseas to Portugal for the solution: Cesar and Collin. (It should be noted that Cesar has started every game he's been available in 2011 and Collin entered the fray hours after his ITC was submitted.)

The pair definitely made a return on Vermes' selection, holding one of the most potent defenses in Major League Soccer to just the lone goal. Collin is the physical presence, Cesar is the distributor.

Now, how long can they last together?

Tactical Thinking is an occasional column exploring tactical and statistical analysis of Sporting Kansas City.