On the day that Sporting KC received its 2013 championship rings, the club reminded everyone that Kansas City is still force to reckon with in Major League Soccer. And, unlike last year, that definitely includes matches at Sporting Park now.
A 2-0 win over the Columbus Crew
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means that KC leap frogs back to the top of the Eastern Conference with 14 points from 8 games — and the best goal differential (+5) in the conference.
Jacob Peterson and Claudio Bieler picked up the goals for Kansas City. Goalkeeper Eric Kronberg and the defense notched the fourth shutout of the year.
Fun stat alert: In six games in all competitions at Sporting Park this year, KC has allowed just one goal. (That was a 90th-minute goal off a free kick by FC Dallas in the home opener.)
Fun stat alert, part 2: Sporting KC hasn't allowed a goal in the last 360 minutes of MLS action at Sporting Park.
Here are three thoughts on the game.
The problem with being Kansas City's goalkeeper? You don't face a lot of shots. This season, Kronberg has faced only 24 of them. As a matter of comparison: Chicago's Sean Johnson faced 39 and Salt Lake's Nick Rimando faced 37. Inaction can lead to a lack of focus.
Against Columbus, Kronberg was phenomenal and focused when called upon. It was his best game in net this year, making four big saves. His first-half stop on Bernardo Anor was a literal game-saver.
Later, in the second half, he might have done that save one better — only, it didn't count because Jairo Arrieta was flagged for offside.
No question, Kronberg was the man of the match.
The second problem for Kronberg? He's replacing a legend in Jimmy Nielsen. He's made a pretty decent account for himself. Though, perception is a totally different story in some circles. Some feel he's been poor and part of the problem for KC this season. That's a sentiment that I and the numbers don't quite share.
Through eight games, Kronberg has allowed six goals and posted four shutouts. His goals allowed average is 0.75.
In Nielsen's first eight games as KC's No. 1: Nine goals, three shutouts and a goals allowed average of 1.125.
It's not totally an analogous comparison — KC's defense now is far better than it was then — but it's interesting to compare the two straight up and see some similarities.
2. Let's talk about Larry
When I sit down to watch the match again later this week, I'll probably dive more deeply into the specifics of how Lawrence Olum did replacing Aurelien Collin.
My initial reaction: He did very well.
After the game, Peter Vermes called Olum the "ultimate jack of all trades." He's had to replace Oriol Rosell in big situations, he's filled in for Paulo Nagamura at times and he's played alongside both Collin and Matt Besler. In the words of Vermes, he tends to "always rise to the occasion."
Against Columbus, he was very effective in organizing and holding the back line — especially as the Crew were pushing for a goal in the second half. He kept the game — and Arrieta — in front of him and made several timely interceptions and clearances.
For the game, Olum had four interceptions, eight clearances and eight recoveries. Those are all great numbers for a defender.
Without Ike Opara this year, Olum will be called on a lot here soon when Besler leaves to join the U.S. national team. If he can play like this — which means KC can keep its high press and midfield compression without sacrificing sturdiness in the back — Kansas City should be able to survive.
3. The battle for the wings was as good as advertised
I was the one that advertised it as being good in the first place,
but, man, did it deliver on my expectations. Watching two very good tactical coaches shifting their approach to gain an advantage over the other over the course of 90 minutes? If you're a tactical nerd, that's just fun to watch.
For the first 30 minutes, Columbus seemed out of sorts and disinterested in this matchup. It didn't help that Kansas City scored very early.
While that goal didn't come directly from the wings, the move started with a Chance Myers overlap. The Crew weren't offering a lot of opposition for KC out wide. Myers had several overlaps and Seth Sinovic nearly doubled the lead in the first.
The Crew woke up toward the end of the first half and started to create chances — including a move that led to Kronberg's game-saving play.
In the second half, Crew coach Gregg Berhalter inserted speedy Dominic Odurro into the game at right midfield. The change was almost immediate. The Crew started attacking down the right side and became far more dangerous. Odurro pushed Sinovic back, which saw Peterson having to come deeper to help out. That sort of move hampers KC's ability to possess the ball.
Vermes countered by going to his bench fairly early, bringing in Soony Saad in the 61st minute. Saad offered fresh legs, but more importantly his offensive ability meant the Crew had to be wary of counter attacks on Odurro's side. That move didn't entirely work, which led to Saad swapping sides with Graham Zusi.
That did work, effectively ending the battle of the wide areas and also the game.