So, over the last 8 games (7 MLS, 1 U.S. Open Cup), Sporting Kansas City is 4-0-4 with 13 goals for and 3 against.
I'm pretty certain -- bordering on absolutely 100% confident -- that's not a sentence I was prepared to type about 2 months ago.
Here are 11 things that I wasn't prepared to type 2 months ago but I'm now pretty certain I'm fairly sure about.**I would put my ability to qualify a statement up there with the absolutely best soccer bloggers who work for newspapers named Charles in the entire world. 1. Julio Cesar might not be the new Pablo Escobar anymore.
This is about as shocking a development as we've had around these parts since Kei Kamara once accidentally walked into a Qdoba for lunch.
The Brazilian slowly worked his way back into the mix (11 minutes off the bench against Dallas, 29 off the bench versus San Jose and then 90 minutes each the last two games) and shown flexibility as both central defender and defensive midfielder.
Give credit to Peter Vermes for a) realizing Julio wasn't working and b) figuring out how to get Julio working again. Also, credit to Julio himself -- many vets might have just banged the paycheck and written the season off after that Los Angeles Galaxy game.
Just chew on this: Michael Harrington, Roger Espinoza, Stephane Auvray and Teal Bunbury all find themselves on the bench and Chance Myers, Seth Sinovic, Cesar and CJ Sapong have "taken" their positions, respectively. Who sawthat
Which leads me to2. Peter Vermes deserves a break or two.
The man has been run through the coals in some circles (including Big Soccer, countless podcasts and this very blog) for how this season has transpired. It was hard to give him the benefit of the doubt (i.e. admitting the road trip was too much) when the team was struggling.
But he's juggled the road trip, injuries, Gold Cup call-ups and superstar slumps and managed to get the team pointed in the right direction. Remarkable.
What's more, he's turned a team that seemed rudderless and devoid of confidence into a flexible and balanced squad. They aren't world beaters, but the improvement is notable.
Sporting Kansas City has 19 players who have appeared in at least 6 games. What's more, 11 of those 19 players have (or have in the past) played multiple positions -- Davy Arnaud (AMF/DMF/RM/FW), Graham Zusi (FW/AMF/LW), Kei Kamara (CF/RW), Chance Myers (RB/RW), Michael Harrington (LB/RB/LW/RW), Birahim Diop (MF/FW), Julio Cesar (DMF/CB), Milos Stojcev (AMF/LW/RW), Omar Bravo (LW/AMF/FW), Roger Espinoza (LB/CM) and Luke Sassano (RB/MF).
That's not really including Matt Besler (who has previously played LB) or Ryan Smith (who could flop LW/RW -- more on him in a second) or Korede Aiyegbusi (who can play all the positions that start with the word LEFT).
Versatility. Kansas City has it.3. CJ Sapong is the right fit for the formation.
Once upon a time I wondered out loud if the rookie would settle into a role as an impact substitute. A guy who could just bring energy and physicality into the mix from the 70th minute forward.
I was wrong. He's a starter in this league. He links the play better than Teal Bunbury and occupies the opposing central defenders to give Omar Bravo and Graham Zusi room to operate.4. Chance Myers isn't just the Reserve League Jesus he's not even a bust.
People did more than whisper that Myers was a bust not three months ago. Then he turned into the greatest reserve league player ever. People still whispered. Then he destroyed New England in the Open Cup. The whispers got quieter, but persisted. Then he established himself as the team's first-choice right back. People have been too stunned to speak.
Myers has played every single minute of Kansas City's 7-game league unbeaten streak. Every. Single. Minute.5. Aurelien Collin isn't crazy...
he just plays with an admirable amount of controlled recklessness. It works for him.6. Matt Besler is an All-Star.
He won't get the votes, of course. After all, he doesn't play for New York.
When Besler and Collin got together, the opponents seemed to stop scoring. That's not a coincidence. Collin is able to use his "controlled recklessness" because he's got Besler behind him to mop up any potential mess.
Also, show me another defender who could get yanked around around as much as Matt these last two years who could keep his head on his shoulders and battle back into the starting lineup and actually improve.7. Graham Zusi is the team MVP.
I'll use just one word to describe Zusi's play over the last month: Catalyst.**Sure, just don't point out that I used 13 words in the opening statement.
Simply put, Zusi just tries stuff. He's like Clint Dempsey in that regard. Trying stuff doesn't always work (like against Toronto), but when it does (like against Dallas), it can start an avalanche of confidence that spreads to the whole team.8. The home-field advantage in Major League Soccer is real.
Sporting KC are undefeated at home in three games and have allowed just one goal. (Shhh, don't mention that it was against the inept Chicago Fire, the Wondolowski-less Earthquakes and the hapless Whitecaps. You'll ruin the conceit of this article.)9. Ryan Smith isn't coming back.
Just a hunch on my part, but I don't think we'll see Smithy back in KC. Which is sorta sad.10. I'm not going to slack off in The Full 90 fantasy league anymore.
I'm not going to be that guy who leaves his lineup unchanged anymore. Promise.11. Sporting Kansas City is in a better playoff position than I thought.
I said a few weeks ago that KC had -- once again -- dug themselves too deep a hole to dig out of to make the playoffs this year.
I think I'll slightly rescind* that statement. I think they have a fighting chance of making the playoffs this year. Especially since 10 of the league's 18 teams make it in.*Please don't look up the definition of rescind!
With games in hand and a little bit of luck/parity, Sporting is just 7 points off the last guaranteed playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. I'm fairly certain that I'm pretty sure that if results go the right way, Sporting KC can make it.