With two of its best players gone, how will Sporting Kansas City cope? Is Bobby Convey the key? Also: Why KC won't alter its formation quite yet and how the defense managed to get back on track against Chicago.
All that and more in our first edition of Tactical Thinking this year. Let's begin this blog by starting it.
With Graham Zusi and Matt Besler away on U.S. national team duty, Peter Vermes will have to find a way to replace a legit MVP candidate and the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year for Sporting Kansas City's trip to New England this weekend.
Vermes will also be without Teal Bunbury and Jacob Peterson, who are both rehabbing from off-season surgeries. Regular right-back Chance Myers missed last week's match with a quad strain and midfielder Peterson Joseph is nursing a bum knee. (And, you know, those two guys who left to Europe in January.)
No biggie, amiright?
We knew that Kansas City's three-pronged season (MLS regular season, U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League) would be a test. But we didn't really expect it would come this early.
Last week, newcomer Mechack Jerome made his first MLS start in place of Myers. He was solid defensively and proved himself a capable player.
Who will get the chance next?
The battle to replace Besler will likely come to third-year player Lawrence Olum or former first-round pick and off-season pick-up Ike Opara. I think you have to look beyond who the best player or most experienced player and select who might fit the best.
Which is why I'd go with Opara. He offers more speed and athleticism at the position -- which is a necessity when paired with Aurelien Collin, who often drifts upfield or gets stuck in on tackles. Olum, a player who also tends to drift upfield and is a limited passer, is a better fill-in partner when Besler is back there.
As for replacing Zusi, it's a job that could be filled by shuffling Bobby Convey back into the lineup with Sapong back out on the right.
Convey has been a bit maligned this season by some. Partly because I think the people maligning him might not properly understand his function in the formation.*
*I won't dwell on the formation elephant in the room -- Mike Kuhn's _blank">"Is it time for a 4-4-2"
article at Down The Byline and the many folks on Twitter -- at length because, frankly, it's just not a thing I think will happen. Vermes doesn't call his 4-3-3 his formation. He refers to it as "his system." Each position has a specific function designed to cover as much ground as possible. It's not just as a pressure system, but as a possession system.
This doesn't mean that the conversation and bringing up that idea isn't a valid discussion. Do it. By all means. I just think there's not much chance that Vermes actually makes that change. He's had Omar Bravo, Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong and Claudio Bieler -- all center forwards -- and has never gone with a strike partnership up top. Never.
And, don't forget, this system/formation has worked out all right. Do I need to link to the standings from last year? Or recall that, playing the exact same style in 2011, Sporting KC were among the highest-scoring teams in MLS? Or that KC is tied for second in total goals scored right now? We're not even out of March yet.