In this week’s episode of “Hey MLS team, try and stop Sebastian Giovinco,” Sporting Kansas City played the role of spoiler, limiting the Italian striker to just two shots on goal and only a handful of touches inside the box en route to a 1-0 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park.
Last season’s reigning MVP, also known as the “Atomic Ant,” lacked the consistent dangerous moments seen in the first two weeks of the season, when he contributed four goals to help Toronto FC bag four points. Spacing had a ton to do with it. Sporting KC suffocated the area surrounding Giovinco with Nuno Coelho and Matt Besler, and it backed off only when the striker settled into the midfield.
Nevertheless, Giovinco created his chances…because he’s too good not to. He skated past three defenders inside the box in the 66th minute before pushing his shot above the crossbar, and later flicked a ball back over his shoulder inside the penalty area to give the Reds a scoring opportunity.
None of his chances found the back of the net, though.
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“There’s not really a way to stop him. He’s just that talented,” Besler said. “You just have to try and limited his touches, and try to limit the time that he’s in dangerous areas – you know, contain him.
“For the most part, I think we were able to do that. Obviously there were four of five times were he was able to get space, but I thought we handled those situations pretty well by delaying him.”
With the result, Sporting KC’s unblemished record moves to 3-0-0, which is tops in MLS. The club sits three points clear of the L.A. Galaxy in the Western Conference, and has yet to allow a goal in the run of play.
Here are the three thoughts on the latest victory:
1. Davis’ goal won’t sit well with those north of the border, but it will reaffirm Vermes’ tactics
From nemesis to hero, Brad Davis opened his Sporting KC scoring account in a major way on Sunday.
It wasn’t without controversy, though.
Davis shouldered Justin Morrow off the ball to collect a pass from Dom Dwyer. As the defender crashed into the ground and pleaded for a whistle, Davis cut back inside the box to deliver a left-footed shot into the corner of the net.
The contact was frail in comparison to other challenges that went uncalled this weekend around the league. Yet, at the same time, weaker challenges have been whistled, which is what left Toronto FC manager Greg Vanney upset following the game.
“We deserved a point,” he said. “That was a foul in any stadium, in any league. It’s a foul. The defender has position, and the attacker clips him to get the ball and get possession.”
Regardless of the hullabaloo surrounding the no-call, there was more at work on Davis’ goal, such as where it came from.
The former Houston Dynamo standout spent the majority of his career playing on the left side of the field where he could swing cross after cross off of his left foot. But so far with Sporting Kansas City, Peter Vermes has elected to put Davis on the right. His reasoning: When Davis cuts inside like he did on Sunday, he’ll have the ball on his preferred foot. The same goes for Graham Zusi on the opposite side of the field.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the same all the time, but I think the way Brad and Zusi are,” Vermes said. “The way they come inside and the ability to overlap with our fullbacks at times, it fits in really well with the way we play.
“The other thing is that Brad can serve the ball with his right foot, too, and Zusi can serve the ball with his left foot. But I like the fact that when they come inside, they are on their dominant foot and can be dangerous both ways.”
2. Chance Myers supplied a big effort in a match that called for it
On a typical night, Sporting KC’s centerback pairing love to roam into the space where the fullbacks inhabit.
This was not a typical night. Not against Giovinco.
Depending on which side the Italian floated toward, both Sporting KC centerbacks were forced to shade over in help defense to limit his space and time on the ball.
As a result, Chance Myers and Amadou Dia were left to defend 1v1 for most of the night.
Dia was certainly good, but Myers was arguably the unsung hero on Sunday. He made five recoveries, a tackle on the edge of the box and two clearances late in the game, when the Reds were pushing for an equalizer (and throwing numbers forward, led by super sub Jozy Altidore).
Myers is fully recovered from 2014’s Achilles injury, and appears to be returning to the form seen in 2013 that made him one of the league’s premier right backs.
“Chance has been great this year,” Besler said. “He looks healthy. Finding that rhythm is big for any player, and I think Chance has been able to find that so far. I think he’s been very smart with picking and choosing on when to go forward and when to stay back and help out the back four.”
3. Perspective, perspective, perspective
Three games, nine points, a plus-three goal differential and tops in the West.
Everywhere you look, there are positives surrounding Sporting KC’s early form, especially when you consider neither Benny Feilhaber nor offseason addition Justin Mapp have suited up this season.
However, it’s early (how’s that for a hot take?), which means perspective is king. The Galaxy were in the doldrums of the Western Conference entering the summer last season before jumping as high as first place down the stretch. The season matters most during the dog days of summer and in August when the biggest separation takes place.
If this form is present then, then we can start talking expectations. But for now, let’s keep those in check. The positive start is just that, a start. As Besler pointed out after the game, Sporting KC has started the season on an impressive winning streak only to be bounced from the playoffs early. It has also gone winless through a handful of games only to make a deep run when it matters most.
“It’s a good start,” Besler said. “We want to try and win as many games as we can to start. But we also have to understand is that the only thing it means is that we have nine points. I don’t think it makes any sense to look at the standings this early, because they’re going to be different in one or two months. And it’s not how you start in this league, but how you finish.”