Home opener. Sporting Park. Against the Chicago Fire. Lots of fouls. Tepid chances. Ends in a lifeless 0-0 draw. Fire fans leave satisfied. Kansas City's leave disappointed. Do not adjust your computer screen, this isn't a repeat of the inaugural game at Sporting Park in 2011. It just feels that way. Let's quickly recap the "high" points and discuss some of the concerns exiting this match.
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1. Chicago had no interest in actually playing soccer.
This isn't a game that Major League Soccer will use to showcase its brand. It's a game, quite frankly, that is probably an embarrassment to NBC Sports and its massive "Rivalry Day" promotion. It was everything that soccer haters, um, hate. It wasn't very exciting, too much diving, too many fouls, not enough sharpness. But this is what soccer can be like some times. The Fire came into this game looking for a point and looking for positive signs. They'll leave the city fairly content. The plan to unsettle KC was a familiar one: Commit tactical fouls (20 fouls, 4 yellow cards for Chicago) and keep 9 to 10 players behind the ball. It worked out nearly perfectly for them. Kansas City were frustrated in possession and stifled on attack -- only three of KC's 20 shots were on frame. I never thought I'd say this: Kansas City could've used more old-fashioned shots. Someone needs to step up and fill Kei Kamara's shoot-happy boots.
Tactical question?Who was the focal point of the attack?
I kept asking myself that all game. Claudio Bieler got swallowed up by Chicago's defenders (primarily Jalil Anibaba, who had a really nice game) and had a hard time collecting the ball and bringing players into the play. C.J. Sapong had a lot of positive possession -- especially early -- but he would either become isolated or crowded off the ball. Either way, the distance between the two of them is part of the reason KC couldn't sustain pressure on the goal. I don't think we'll see it -- because so much of what Kansas City does is based on how they space the field in a 4-3-3 -- but I'd like to see Sapong and Bieler combine together as a central strike partnership. Sapong would be the ball winner, Bieler the run-maker. At the very least, it might give KC a tactical advantage by putting another player into the blocked off middle.
The WTH? Moment
I'm going to go back and find the highlight later, but it has to be Aurelien Collin in the first half doing what I could best describe as a balletic leaping sombrero chip shot pass to Sapong while dancing on the touchline.
2. Possession ultimately signifying nothing.
The numbers are quite staggering: Nearly 73 percent possession for Kansas City.608 total passes to Chicago's 221. 20 shots. But numbers in soccer rarely tell the whole story. Much of KC's overwhelming possession and many of their passes were away from dangerous positions. And, bravo to Chicago for forcing Kansas City out of comfortable spaces. Far too often KC's attacking players had to come deep to find the ball and find space to operate.Whether it Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber or Bieler, the further back the creative play moved, the more isolated it left the players remaining up field. You know what, let's get real: The less we talking we do about the actual game, the better we all are today.
3. But, hey, at least the slow starts and mistakes went away.
Kansas City controlled the play and avoided the same traps -- losing the midfield, casual passes, dumb fouls deep in defensive territory -- from the previous two games. The defense -- when tested -- performed ably. Collin and Matt Besler looked more like the dynamic duo from 2012. Mechack Jerome, in his first start for the team, filled in for Chance Myers exceptionally. He didn't offer a lot going forward -- one of the reasons Myers earned the regular starting spot -- but he kept it simple defensively and didn't give Chicago many options.
Now, that's a beautiful tifo.
Tifo goodness from the cauldron. twitter.com/TheFull90/stat— The Full 90 (@TheFull90) March 16, 2013
Man of the Match
It's hard to give away this honor in this kind of game. No offensive player deserves it, certainly. I don't want to give it to Jerome simply for not being awful. I don't want to give it to Zusi simply for playing to his level and creating a few chances. I don't want to give it to Sapong for being a consistent danger but not a real threat. So, I'm going to give it to Paulo Nagamura. Yep. The veteran midfielder was all over the pitch, covering his teammates and recovering possession. It's not a sexy pick, but his play was the difference in re-balancing the midfield.**Which I talked about in my preview. So, I sound a lot more prescient now don't I?
The Great What-If
What if Zusi is able to put this shot on frame OR get it to the back post?
Ah, what could've been!