Not even a week into the season, and Sporting Kansas City faces its third different team in seven days. The "Sporting Crucible" continues.
FC Dallas comes to Sporting Park (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.) and poses a slightly different challenge than the Seattle Sounders did last week and Cruz Azul did midweek during the Champions League. The Sounders played with width; Cruz Azul played patiently through the middle. Dallas is a strong defensive team that has the players (specifically Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo) to run directly at KC's defense. The main issue — and really, the only tactical topic worth exploring right now — is Kansas City's fatigue. Three games in a week during the middle of the season is no picnic. Doing it during the first week of the season (compounded by injuries and suspensions) is a much more difficult proposition. So far, Peter Vermes has managed the task with some very early squad rotation. The lineup on Wednesday night featured six different players from the weekend match in Seattle. Eighteen different players already — on account of injuries to Chance Myers, Seth Sinovic and Paula Nagamura, and the suspension of Aurelien Collin for the CCL match — have already played at least a minute. In an odd twist for Vermes — who has a history of rolling a hot lineup over from game to game to start the season — only four members of the team have played all 180 minutes available: Eric Kronberg (obviously), Matt Besler (obviously), Graham Zusi (again, obviously) and Kevin Ellis (which is crazy).
The only other players with more than 100 minutes so far: Benny Feilhaber (at least 75 minutes in both games) and C.J. Sapong (played just 15 minutes on Wednesday after the full 90 on Saturday). Through two games, that strategy has worked. While Kansas City failed to pick up the win (or salvage the draw) against Seattle, the "rotated" team played well for 90 minutes. With a more regular "first-choice" team on Wednesday, Kansas City was, for long stretches of the game, the best team on the field against the leaders of the Mexican Liga MX. Given that the greater challenge facing SKC is defending a 1-0 lead in Mexico on Wednesday, I expect that the rotation will continue.
Zusi should be the first of the regulars to get a rest. He didn't participate with the first-team during training on Friday and my gut says he'll rest during the Dallas game too.*
*If Myers is back to full health, I think Ellis might go back to the bench as well. Besler will also get a rest soon -- either this match or next weekend.
Containing Dallas' attackers
It might only be one game, but the three-headed attack monster for Dallas of Blas Perez, Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo (coincidentally or not, the three goal scorers in their opening week win over Montreal) is probably on every MLS coaches radar now. Perez, a Panamanian international, is a bull of a striker. He's a big guy (6'1") and he uses his size and skills to cause havoc in the penalty box. Castillo, against Montreal, created his scoring chance by running off a distraction caused by Perez.
That goal, partly, comes from how much attention Hassan Camara was paying to Perez. The interplay of Dallas' attackers — especially if Kansas City has gaps form between the defenders and the fullbacks — will be an interesting test for KC. As for Diaz, well, anyone who can do this is immediately on everyone's radar.
Has Kevin Ellis finally arrived?
For a few years now, several of us blogger-types have quietly huddled at media day or in the press box and wondered when Ellis would push for a first-team spot. After all, there's a reason that someone nicknamed him Danny Alves (famed Barcelona right back) when he first joined the team. He's built like a tank, can run for days, has a good nose for the goal and is a surprisingly good leaper for a shorter guy. But he's never been able to effectively get himself into the regular 18-man game day roster. That is, until this year. Against Seattle he made a good account of himself before fading down the stretch — which is understandable, he's not used to that sort of in-game pressure. Against Cruz Azul, he was better. And that's not just because he scored. He was solid on defense and in linking up passes -- long a weak spot for young KC fullbacks asked to carry a lot of build-up responsibilities. He told The Star's Sam McDowell that he spent much of the offseason
watching film on the world's best fullbacks
. Seems like a move that has paid off thus far. Has he jumped Mechack Jerome on the depth chart? Based off two games, it appears so. Can he keep it up for an extended run if Myers remains hurt? It's impossible to base that answer off just two games.
Some love for Claudio — The Creator
Claudio Bieler is
a guy we've written about before
. This year, he seems more fit and, if Wednesday is any indication, a lot more comfortable drifting away from the box to create offense. Let's never forget
his outside-of-the-boot flick across the box to a wide-open Kevin Ellis
against Cruz Azul. Given the main thrust of this preview so far... I wouldn't be surprised if both Ellis and Bieler sat the bench this game.
Best Guess at a Lineup
I expect to see Sinovic (he's suspended for the Cruz Azul match next week) and Collin (he was suspended Wednesday) to start. I also expect we won't see Zusi in the starting XI either. After that? It's a total and complete toss-up. Can Vermes rest Feilhaber if Zusi sits? Can he play Bieler in attacking midfielder and Dom Dwyer at striker if those are his only two healthy center forwards? Does Sal Zizzo get the nod out wide over Jacob Peterson? Will Paulo Nagamura rest his ankle ahead of Cruz Azul like last week? Yeah. This is going to be a massive "guess." The only injuries: Peterson Joseph (illness) and Soony Saad (right groin strain) are listed as out; Myers (right groin strain) is questionable. GK: Kronberg; Ellis, Collin, Besler-c, Sinovic; Olum, Nagamura, Feilhaber; Sapong, Dwyer, Peterson
BENCH: Gruenebaum; Jerome, Opara; Rosell, Medranda; Zizzo, Bieler
(I wouldn't be shocked if Besler sat for Opara. At all.)
Sporting KC 1, Dallas 0. While Dallas has a good offense and really sturdy defense, I think Kansas City are the better team and will get its first win this season.
Song of the Day
If you want to know what that blur is leaving Sporting Park on Saturday night, it's going to be trying to get from The Legends to the Record Bar in time to see Chicago post-rock/metal band Russian Circles. They are, in short, phenomenal. I've picked the song "Deficit" from their latest album "Memorial" as the song for today. Enjoy it in all of its churning wall of intensity.
I want the "chugga chugga chugga" riff that starts at 4:05 to extend on into infinity.