There’s been more bad than good in the last seven days for Sporting Kansas City, which hasn’t been the case for much of the season.
Four days removed from a brutal 5-0 thumping at the hands of the San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting KC traveled to Columbus and regained some of the form seen over the course of the season.
Then it all unraveled late.
Sporting KC now faces its first real adversity of the season, and it echoes much of what happened last August when the team began its slow fall from the top of the Eastern Conference.
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Now in the Western Conference, Sporting KC has less room for error, especially with the team’s sight set on the Supporters Shield. How Sporting KC responds remains to be seen, but here’s the good, bad and ugly from Saturday’s 3-2 defeat.
▪ Quick start. After conceding three goals in the opening 45 minutes Wednesday, Sporting KC found its standard form to start a match. The visitors pushed the tempo out of the gate, pinging passes up the field while denying space for the Crew to do damage. Once Marcel de Jong secured the opening goal, Sporting KC settled…perhaps too much, allowing Columbus time to regain composure and begin attacking themselves. But when it comes down to it, especially on the road, most managers would take a 1-1 scoreline into the break.
▪ Marking Kamara. At 6-foot-3, with the ability to jump out of his cleats, Kamara is a beast in the air. His run of 18 goals this season is no fluke, which is what makes Ellis and Besler’s performance so impressive. Ellis specifically was superb when it came to tailing Kamara in the box. While Sporting KC was lulled to sleep late on a free kick, it wasn’t Kamara who did the damage. That’s significant when your centerbacks hover around 5-foot-10.
▪ Return of Zusi. It’s been an up and down year for Graham Zusi to this point, as injuries have hampered his availability. However, in his first start since picking up a calf strain on Aug. 8, Zusi showed why he’s still a force in manager Peter Vermes’ system. Sure, Zusi silenced the Crew supporters with a 17-yard curling effort to retake the lead, but it was his ability to reinforce a makeshift midfield that was his greatest contribution. Whether he’s in the midfield or pressing up on the wing, Zusi demands attention, which opens the game for everyone else around him.
▪ Medranda and the 50/50 ball. Jimmy Medranda hasn’t had it easy at left back. The faux expectations placed upon him after the Toronto FC match have really came back to bite him now following back-to-back mediocre performances. Medranda was much, much better Saturday, but he still has yet to pick up any sort of awareness when it comes to 50/50 balls. Not every 50/50 ball is equal. Recognizing when it’s appropriate to step up for a challenge makes all the difference. On Columbus’ first goal, Medranda gets stuck in no-man’s land after taking a few steps toward a challenge he was never going to win. Against a Crew team that lives and dies by attacking the opposing team’s fullbacks, Medranda should have known to stay back and anticipate the oncoming attacker.
▪ Offside? Offside. Any time there’s ever the hint of an offside possibility, fans … well … lose their minds. However, Sporting KC supporters had a case on the Crew’s opening goal. Ethan Finlay, the eventual goal scorer, remained onside and was able to redirect the ball on goal using his chest. That’s not the issue here. Kei Kamara, however, was in an offside position once Federico Higuaín took his shot. It wasn’t called, and Columbus took advantage. Sporting KC has had its fair share of gripes with AR calls this season (cough, at FC Dallas) but has also benefitted from them (cough, cough, Seattle Sounders FC at home).
▪ Playing well for 80 minutes on the road, on short rest is a nice achievement, except soccer is a 90-minute game. After shocking Vancouver in the final 10 minutes one week ago, one would think Sporting KC would know this. Columbus certainly did, scoring twice in an eight-minute stretch to secure the win. Tired legs aren’t to blame; defensive lapses are. And those can lead to what we saw Saturday.