The Full 90

Ask The Full 90: What was the biggest piece missing for Sporting KC against Real Salt Lake?

Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza (right).
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza (right). along@kcstar.com

Twenty years ago Wednesday, Major League Soccer held its inaugural game at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif., featuring the San Jose Clash and D.C. United. Eric Wynalda, now an analyst on Fox Sports 1, scored the game’s lone goal, a curling effort toward the far post in the 80th minute moments after a nasty nutmegging of Jeff Agoos.

It’s a match only a special few remember now — the nervousness and ensuing hysteria, not to mention “Jock Jams” pouring out from the stadium speakers following Wynalda’s goal — and even those who took part in the match don’t exactly reflect on it fondly.

“What I thought was a hard-fought, well-played game was actually a really, really poorly played game from a technical perspective,” Agoos said in an excellent MLSsoccer.com oral history piece. “I think that it was very disjointed.”

“It was a terrible game,” then-D.C. United coach Bruce Arena added.

Terrible. Sloppy. Ugly. Regardless, MLS escaped the guillotine of criticism that would result from a scoreless tie in the league’s inaugural game.

“I sort of saved the league from going under in the first year,” Agoos said in another must-read MLS oral history piece, this one from Sports Illustrated. “A 0-0 tie in the first game wouldn’t fly, so we had to do something.”

Little did we know then* that two decades later, the league would bud into the country’s top tier of professional soccer. From 10 teams to 20, zero soccer-specific stadiums to 14, MLS has expanded upon its niche following and now aims to be one of the top leagues in the world by 2020.

*Literally, little did I know. I was 2 years old at the time.

To reach that goal seems highly unlikely. Then again, the same was said in 1996 for just getting to this point.

So, happy birthday, MLS. Here’s to 20 more.

A few of you asked this same question in two or three different ways, but I thought this one summarized them all pretty well.

All three are appropriate takeaways. But it’s also still early in the season, so kneejerk reactions – while expected – are utterly useless by the time August and September rolls around. We won’t be talking about an April, one-goal loss to Real Salt Lake this fall.

Nonetheless, Matt Besler’s absence was something I analyzed in a postgame video Sam and I did Saturday night. Neither Nuno Coelho nor Kevin Ellis were necessarily bad, they just never seemed to settle into flow of the game. Real Salt Lake had a lot to do with that, using Joao Plata in creative ways on the wings to pull both Coelho and Ellis out of position. (The long ball also prompted emergency defending). It just felt as though one or both Sporting Kansas City centerbacks were always scrambling to get back into position throughout the game.

I thought Coelho especially overcompensated for Besler’s absence, which is to be expected. He’s the other starter, so it’s up to him the pick up the slack. (This was his first competitive game without Besler beside him, mind you). Some of you ran with this analysis and essentially said he did so because Ellis was poor, but I don’t buy that. Coelho was extending himself too far on the right side at times or too high up the field. Ellis had his moments, as well, so the blame doesn’t fall on just one player.

The point is this: You can’t replicate what Besler does. Period. (This is also true for Roger Espinoza, as I’ll discuss shortly). As a captain, Besler is one of the best in-game managers in MLS. He sees the field so, so well, and is able to divvy out responsibilities in real time*. Coelho and Ellis are complementary pieces to an in-game manager, so without that managerial presence beside them, things were just out of whack.

*Don’t believe me? Then listen to Benny Feilhaber, who said the following about Besler this week: “Matt’s our leader. Obviously he’s a guy that can talk to everybody while being able to see the whole field. There’s little things you can’t duplicate without Matt in there.”

Espinoza’s skill-set is so unique in this league because it’s predicated, first, on a tireless motor that never seems to run out. Then there’s a superb knowledge of the game he matured during his time in England and now possesses. If Sporting KC is scrambling, Espinoza isn’t afraid to foul. If the attack is sputtering in the final third, he’ll pick up the slack as a second or third runner in the box.

Sporting KC will need to be able to play without one or both of these guys, because injuries and other competitions will cut into their availability, especially this summer. This team has often been criticized for being a one-trick pony. When you take away what they do best — or, in this case, one of their best players — they struggled to make plays happen. This was true on Saturday, so it’s something to keep an eye on moving forward. For now, though, it’s too early to draw significant conclusions.

Great question, Thom. This is something that was brought up in the press box several times on Saturday. It’s basically an extension of what I was saying above.

While Jordi Quintilla has a ton of upside and has impressed early, he’s not known as a box-to-box midfielder. He’s also just 22 years old. Espinoza, meanwhile, is a seasoned professional who has more than 150 games under his belt. Something’s gotta give.

That being said, Paulo Nagamura is better suited to replace Espinoza when healthy. At 33, Nagamura has played in more than 250 games in MLS. He understands the league, and how matches typically unfold. He’s also got the type of motor that Peter Vermes loves to have in his midfield — an anchor that can settle things down, which didn’t happen against Real Salt Lake. Nagamura’s age restricts him from playing this role on a consistent basis but, yes, he’s the closest match Sporting KC has on the bench to Espinoza.

This is a great question, because it brings up the topic of inverted wingers — players who traditionally play on one side that essentially flip-flop to the other side.

In the case of Graham Zusi and Brad Davis, Vermes loves using them as inverted wingers. His reason being that when they cut back into the middle of the field, they’re already on their dominant foot. Davis’ goal against Toronto FC was a prime example of an inverted winger scoring from his preferred foot.

But to answer your question, Zusi and Davis will definitely switch sides throughout the season. Vermes said as much following the Toronto FC match, adding that both players are more than capable enough of scoring from their non-dominant foot.

One reason why Vermes has been reluctant to use Davis on the left so far may be that Sporting KC severely lacks a player who can get on the end of crosses and score in the run of play. Kei Kamara used to be that player, but no one has taken up the mantle since. Without that type of finisher, Vermes may see more value currently in Davis’ ability to cut inside and set up his own shots.

This is one of the more interesting questions of the week. First off, Seth Sinovic is healthy and was on the bench for the Real Salt Lake match. With his team trailing 2-0 for most of the match, his services weren’t really needed. I do, however, see him making the starting lineup soon.

Now, here’s why I find the question so odd: it’s my belief that Amadou Dia has been quite good for Sporting KC through four games. Dia is just 22 years old, yet he’s one of the more poised and creative left backs in the league already. Some of what he tries to do on the attack is a little too ambitious at times, but he’s confident and talented. I think he’ll be a household name — by MLS standards, of course — soon.

As a fourth-year journalism and mass communications student, I’m ashamed to admit I did more research answering this question than almost anything so far this semester.

But here’s the thing, I was incredibly intrigued by my findings (read: Google search).

Apparently, the “Q” in Q-Tips stands for quality. That’s cool and all, but not what’s really interesting.

The name Q-Tips didn’t get introduced until 1926. They were originally called “Baby Gays” — what a name, right? — in the early 1920s by a Polish-born American named Leo Gerstenzang.

The first “Baby Gays” was a homemade rig made up of a cotton and … surprise … a toothpick. Yes, the sharp object we often use to dig food out of our teeth. Gerstenzang understandably saw the risk in using a toothpick. One slip up and, “Sorry hun, our child no longer has an ear.” So he went back to the drawing board and came up with a full cotton-swab version that accomplished the same task but with less risk.

Apparently, it was a heavily detailed, scientific process, finding the right amount of cotton to use, but Leo did it.

Kudos to you, Leo.

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