Well, Sporting Kansas City won’t go undefeated in 2016.
After a trio of promising results to open the season, Sporting KC was humbled at home on Saturday by a Real Salt Lake side missing a near full-lineups worth of players.
The lackluster performance reflected the final scoreline — a 2-1 defeat — and the three thoughts below:
Lifeless start proved disappointing under glaring circumstances
Here’s what I had to say in this week’s Ask The Full 90 about what I perceived to be Sporting KC’s game plan against Real Salt Lake:
“There’s a good chance Sporting KC comes out on the front foot and pushes for an early goal to discourage the whittled-down visitors, but the tactics involve shouldn’t look all that different. The only real tactical change should be more activity in the space between the midfield and forwards, with Feilhaber leading the charge.”
Given the circumstances, including Benny Feilhaber’s aforementioned return and Real Salt Lake’s absences — not to mention the game being at home — it was a fair assumption. The longer you allow an underdog to hang around, the more confidence you instill in them. And with the visitors missing its defensive spine in Kyle Beckerman, Jamison Olave and Nick Rimando, Sporting KC had an opportunity to jumpstart a dominating, statement performance.
Instead, it was a sloppy start (and thus an even uglier finish). Sporting KC’s passing accuracy in the attacking half hovered around 55 percent for much of the first half, including a 47 percent mark in the final third through 25 minutes. Dom Dwyer was waved offside on four occasions, putting an end to a handful of decent attacks. Brad Davis’ runs were largely ignored by the rest of his teammates.
Real Salt Lake’s opening goal was equally disappointing. The foul leading up to the free kick was unnecessary given the numbers behind the ball. And on the free kick itself, Sporting KC’s defensive line stood still and watched while three red jerseys floated into the six-yard space, one of which was Iusten Glad who headed in his first MLS goal.
Credit Real Salt Lake for coming to play
Road results are hard to come by in this league, where factors such as travel and weather dominate discussion. Real Salt Lake had an added hurdle on Saturday, missing one-third of its roster due to red card suspension and injuries. You wouldn’t have known that, though, based on their willingness to simply play.
Sure, Real Salt Lake was out-possessed 67-33. And yes, much of its damage was done off the counter attack. Still, the visitors out-worked and out-toughed Sporting KC for large parts of the match, finishing with six more shots than the home side (and five more shots on goal). They clearly frustrated the home side, too, shifting its defensive line on more than a handful of occasions to draw Sporting KC offside (eight in total).
Their attitude was no better reflected than in Joao Plata, who was a one-man wrecking crew for Real Salt Lake. His hold-up play paved the way for the visitors to push up the field tactically without giving up too much space. His assist off a free kick in the 29th minute gave them the confidence — and maybe a bit of reassurance — that they could steal all three points.
While their tactics could be carved down to “bunker ball,” that wouldn’t be doing anyone justice — Sporting KC included. This was an old-fashion whoopin’, and Real Salt Lake deserves a significant amount of credit for that.
“Is it time to panic?”
There’s no doubt that this was a discouraging performance. No other way to frame it. But I do also recognize several things that possibly were at work behind the scenes that could have factored into such a frustrating outing:
*The popular response to this was, “You try playing next to Ellis.” That’s fine and all, except the overcompensating wasn’t toward his center back partner. Rather, it was him stretching toward the fullbacks at inopportune times that opened up passing lanes. Coelho was fine, and I thought Ellis was as well. Great? Of course not. Both had miscues, and I think it’s clear neither one is an excellent in-game manager (but better complementary pieces to managers such as a Besler). But once the group and its “depth” has time to gel in scenarios that actually matter, they’ll only improve.
5. To boil the other four points down: It was one game, and it’s still early.