The Full 90

The XI: Has KC finally found its way?

Do you remember May 14th? It was the night that Los Angeles slapped Sporting silly with a 4-1 beatdown in Carson. Do you remember how you felt as a Sporting Kansas City fan?

It was awful. Horrible. The worst. Rock bottom.

I wrote an entire column about, using "Fight Club" quotes to describe the feeling of hitting the bottom.

But, as the cliche goes, there was no where to go but up. Near the end of that column, I asked the question: "Will (KC) scrape along for a few weeks? Can they pull themselves together and right the wrongs? Will they just pack it in and dwell at the bottom?"

Since that game, KC are 8-2-9 in all competitions with 28 goals. I believe that's a definitive answer to that this question*. Last night's 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake was the final notice I needed that this time is -- at the very least -- rehabilitated.

*Of course there were bumps. KC couldn't win a game for a bit in July. There was the Richmond debacle. There were two scoreless draws.

Back to the present, where, it pains me, I've got to eat a little bit of humble pie before answering questions about this week's action (both the New England and Salt Lake games) and looking forward to the Seattle game on Saturday.

1. Will you stop giving Julio Cesar a hard time now?

Before the game, I expressed my doubts that Julio Cesar could handle playing central defender in MLS*. (I believe I compared him to either sour milk, hot coffee or lukewarm tang on a hot summer's day.)

*I also predicted a Salt Lake win... whoops.

I had my reasons for doubting the Brazilian. For starters, if you remember our trip back to May, Cesar was the man mostly responsible for flubbing that Los Angeles game.

Against Salt Lake, Cesar performed just a bit better. Which is like saying Boulevard Pilsner is better than a flat can of Old Milwaukee. His distribution was impressive, his defense -- while at times frightening -- was mostly solid and he won a ton of headers.

Is he the long-term answer for KC? No. I don't think so. I think he is still susceptible to speed and can be exposed by a creative midfielder sucking him away from the line to create space behind him.

But at this stage, with no Aurelien Collin and the only other option the too-raw Daneil Cyrus, in Cesar I trust.

For now.

2. How did Sporting pull this win off?

In a word: Pressure. In two words: Roger Espinoza. In three words: Roger Espinoza's pressure.

Kansas City harassed and harangued and hassled (and any other "h" word you can think of that fits) Salt Lake's midfielders and defenders into many, many unforced turnovers.

After the game, RSL boss Jason Kreis described it this way:

"I thought Kansas City beat us mentally for most of the first half when they put us on our heels; they tried to press us on our half of the field. We made the unwise choice of continuing to pass out of that pressure and that led to us giving the ball away about 25 yards away and all of a sudden we gave up a goal, so we’re on our heels even more and then we gave up the second goal."

It was Espinoza who led this charge.

3. Was Roger Espinoza having the game of his life?

Yes. The goal he scored is worth taking a second (or third or fourth) look at.

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But it was more than his goal. He pressed Salt Lake into turnovers, sitting on his counterparts in the midfield and creating turnovers. He took chances on goal. He was a monster.

Of course, he had to ruin his certified Man of the Match status with a petulant tackle from behind that got him a straight red.

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Did Espinoza get the ball first? Yeah, he kinda did. But he also scissored Kyle Beckerman's legs out from underneath him. He's developing a reputation* as a hard and often predatory tackler. That reputation sticks in a ref's head.

*It's worth noting, this reputation started to become legendary during a preseason game against RSL this year. 4. Who replaces Espinoza this weekend?

Great question. The answer is probably simple -- either Birahim Diop or Luke Sassano. But that's only replacing the player, not the position.

There isn't another person on the roster who can really "replace" Roger's role on this team right now. Which says a lot about his development as a two-way central midfielder. It's about the most surprising thing that's happened this year. (Is it plain to see why Stephane Auvray is currently persona-non-mention around Swope Park? Espinoza is Auvray with an attacking upgrade.)

I think Vermes will keep Jeferson and Graham Zusi in place and just swap in Diop.

But, I'd love to see Vermes stick Bravo in the midfield with Jeferson, have Zusi sweeping behind them and go with CJ Sapong, Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara up top.

I mean, if you're going to attack, you might as well attack.

5. If Fabian Espindola and Roger Espinoza were to somehow urinate in the same fountain and "change" places*, would anyone really be able to tell?

They are agitators, winding up the opponents with rough tackling or whining gestures. All that separates them is the

hair

.

*I remain unchanged in my position that this is the dumbest idea for a movie in 2011. And I'm including "Transformers" in that discussion. 6. Is Peter Vermes watching a little too much shark week?

RSL were a bit wounded and slow coming in without Jamison Olave. Peter Vermes and KC sniffed that out and went for blood. Right from the opening kick, Sporting attacked Salt Lake and moved around with tremendous fluidity and menace -- circling Salt Lake players with the ball before striking to take it away.

Sounds familiar to anyone who watches too much Discovery Channel -- like me.

7. Can you make the RSL win seem more remarkable?

Real Salt Lake have allowed just 16 goals -- the fewest in the league -- in 20 games. They've only allowed six goals in eight away games -- also the fewest in the league.

How's that for you?

8: Can Real Salt Lake become KC's real "rival"?

Man, I hope. It would be good to have a rival that wasn't based on the action on the field and Kansas Citians' love of nearly free sandwiches.

9. Who can we thank for Seth Sinovic?

Obviously, you could look up his parents (who, I believe, still live in the area) and thank them. But a slightly less awkward and stalker-ish bit thank you card should go to New England -- who outright cut him this offseason. (RSL also passed on him this season after a short trial.)

He saved a goal directly on Wednesday night.

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Finding a sturdy left-back who can defend and provide width in attack is no easy feat -- Sinovic has filled that role ably.

It's worth repeating: KC have never lost a game in which the left-back has started.

Kansas City has pretty great depth at fullback right now with Chance Myers, Sinovic and Michael Harrington with Espinoza (left) and Sassano (right) capable of filling in in a pinch.

10. What underrated skill picked up by an oft-underrated player is making a huge difference for Kansas City this year?

The long-throw being developed by Matt Besler is a real weapon. Before this season, KC didn't have a real threat on set-pieces. Besler worked on it and got the chance to show late in the Spring. It's directly led to two goals. Which I believe is twice as many set-piece goals than KC scored in all of 2010.

11. When will Sporting KC's 14-game unbeaten streak end?

I thought Salt Lake was gonna do it. I was proven wrong. I think Seattle will do it. I kind of hope I'm proven wrong.

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