, has to be sort of amazing.
One of the more interesting tactical conversations to emerge over the last week has been the battle over proactive teams vs. reactive teams. Which style is the most effective?
It's an argument as old as tactical discussion in the sport: Do you hold onto the ball and take the game to the opponent (proactive, modern proponents: Barcelona/Spain) or do you sit back, restrict space and try to hit out on the counter (reactive, Chelsea/England)?
The greatJonathan Wilson tackled this topic
(on a much grander scale than I will) for The Guardian earlier this week.
Wilson's ultimate definition of the two styles is this:
"Essentially a team in establishing its philosophy must pick a point between two extremes. It can try to control the ball, in which case it is forced to an extent to play where the opponent will allow it. Or it can decide to defend its box by packing men in its defensive third in which case it will probably have to accept it will not see much of the ball. The former is proactivity, the latter reactivity. Proactive sides can defend by cycling the ball away from opponents; a reactive team will attack by looking to lure the opposition on and then hitting the space behind it. Rinus Michels's Ajax, Arrigo Sacchi's Milan and Pep Guardiola's Barcelona were overtly proactive. Chapman's Arsenal, Helenio Herrera's Internazionale and Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea were overtly reactive. Most sides opt for a compromise somewhere in between the two extremes."
As usually happens when I actually have time to think about things like this (and write them down): Where does Sporting Kansas City fit on the proactive-reactive spectrum?
Like most teams in the world with talent but not overpowering talent, Kansas City operates somewhere in the middle, but further toward proactivity than reactivity.
Obviously, the high-pressure system is a proactive stance. Peter Vermes wants his team to have the ball in its attacking half and let Graham Zusi and the movement of the forwards to create chances. The advanced placement of the fullbacks creates the numerical advantage needed to break down the defense.
However, Kansas City often finds its best attacking chances spring from deep counter attacks. In fact, you could argue that this is a team that's built to counter. It has the pieces. A roving, tireless midfielder (Roger Espinoza). A solid tackling and distributing defensive midfielder (Julio Cesar). Two fluid defenders who distribute well (Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin). A dynamic group of pacy attackers (Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury/CJ Sapong). Overall team speed.
So: Sporting Kansas City is a proactive team with reactive pieces.* The one thing that KC doesn't do is sit back and soak up pressure (a classic hallmark of an all-out reactive squad).*At Livestrong Sporting Park, KC is much more proactive. On the road, much more reactive.
While KC's style is well established over 14 games (including the Open Cup), it's interesting to explore how the imbalance between the two mindsets can explain why KC were so maddeningly inconsistent over the last month.
Balance, after all, is the eternal struggle for all managers.
For the first 7 games of the season, Sporting found the right balance for this team: Dominate possession for a while, pull back slightly to create space, push forward back into that space.
Then, in May, the team lost its balance.
• Against Montreal, KC were too proactive. If KC get too proactive, the opponent will fall back into a shell (parking "three buses" in front of goal like England did against France) and rely on Kansas City taking shots from 25-30 yards from goal. (Which Sporting will gladly oblige.) Playing against a bunkered team takes away one of KC's biggest strengths: It's overall team speed. It also leaves KC wide open to counter attacks (Orlando City anyone?)
• Against Portland and Chicago, KC went too far the other way. If Kansas City are too reactive, the opponent will pin back the players (wide midfielder and fullbacks) that KC needs to push forward to create chances. Playing too reactively also means exposing the lack of pace for Julio Cesar and the recklessness of Aurelien Collin.
Against San Jose, the dynamic front line of Kamara-Sapong-Bunbury helped re-establish the right balance of proactive possession and reactive counter-attacks.
Is it back for good?
With four games (against wildly different styles of opponents) over the next two weeks, it will be interesting to watch how Vermes throttles the team through its gears over the next two weeks. You would expect him to take the game to Toronto (the worst team in the league breaking in a brand new coach), sit back back on the road (on short rest) against Seattle on Wednesday (and maybe Philadelphia next Saturday) and then try to push the Dayton Dutch Lions in the Open Cup on June 26.
It will be an excellent test of how well this team is calibrated.
Also interesting: How will the absence of Matt Besler mess with the team's approach. Besler is vital for both approaches: He's the last line of cover in the proactive stance and the spine of the reactive stance. That's a job that doesn't seem suited for Julio Cesar, Lawrence Olum or Konrad Waryzcha (the key potential replacements).