So, all of a sudden, it seems as if Sporting Kansas City can't score. But is it really all of the sudden?
Last season, KC averaged 1.47 goals per game (second-best in the league with 50 total). So far this season, KC are off that pace scoring 1.33 goals per game (and seventh-best in the league with 12 total).
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Of those 12 goals, half came from two games -- 3-0 vs. New England and 3-1 vs. Vancouver. What’s more, Kansas City only has one more multi-goal game -- 2-1 vs. Dallas.
I hate criticizing a first-place team. I feel like a spoiled blogger searching for faults. But, two games with no goals is a slump. Despite KC's lofty record (
still tops in the East!
), Sporting have in fact struggled scoring goals for much of this season.
Here's how Sporting have scored this year:
Create turnovers in the opponents' zone and use overwhelming athleticism and speed to turn those into a bucket-load of shots that, in turn, lead to scoring chances.
Hope Graham Zusi/Bobby Convey/Matt Besler can bounce a ball off the head of Aurelien Collin/C.J. Sapong from dead-ball chances.
There isn't a plan C.
Which (over simplification alert!) is kind of a big problem. A team -- even one as successful as KC have been this year -- can't rely on the kindness (and mediocrity) of its opponents (via turnovers and fouls in advantageous positions) and hope to achieve much in the long run.
The only teams to completely solve Kansas City so far this year were Montreal and Portland. How? Those teams have combined to allow 28 goals this year!
Well, they followed the script written by the Houston Dynamo last year: Pressure Graham Zusi when he's in possession (he will make the occasional mistake), harass Julio Cesar all the time (he doesn't like being rushed), keep C.J. Sapong out of dangerous positions (
check out all 14 of his attacking-zone touches against Montreal
-- he rarely touched the ball in the danger zone), don't turn the ball over (especially goalkeepers) and let Sporting swing aimless crosses all day long (17 unsuccessful crosses against Montreal 17!).*
*KC had 20 unsuccessful crosses against Houston and got ineffective performances from Sapong/Teal Bunbury. It's getting a little too familiar, isn't it?
There will be others to solve KC if things don't change and plans don't adapt.
Peter Vermes' game plan is fairly similar for every game (over simplification alert!*) when KC is in possession: Push the ball wide using advanced fullbacks, create gaps in the defense and then attack those gaps.
*That's not true, it's only seemed like it for most of the last two games.
When Kansas City is playing well (like against Los Angeles, New England and the second half against Dallas), they circulate the ball around the opponent's backline, probing for an opening. Pulling the defense apart and then going over (with diagonal balls) or through (with smart runs).
This is a pretty great example of this width-creates-space-creates-goals approach from the New England game.