The Full 90

Three Thoughts: Sporting KC falls to Manchester City

The Kansas City Star

Manchester City defeated Sporting Kansas City 4-1 in front of a nearly-packed house at Sporting Park.

That’s about all there is to it. Not much to analyze. Sporting KC’s first team gave City’s reserves a run for 45 minutes, but (unsurprisingly) the English Premier League champs had more quality on the bench in the second half than Kansas City.

Manchester City gets to take home the first trophy of this preseason, the Champions Shield. Maybe next year, Sporting KC will get a chance to win in back.

For now, let’s jump right into three quick thoughts.

1. No injuries

Mid-season friendlies are always tricky for MLS managers. With an important league fixture looming with Toronto this weekend, Kansas City was always going to treat this game a little lighter than usual. Peter Vermes didn’t take a ton of risks: Graham Zusi was given the night off; Paulo Nagamura is still absent with an ankle injury.

Soony Saad and Dom Dwyer seemed up for the game and pressed hard against City’s young backline. Benny Feilhaber and Lawrence Olum also had solid showings — Feilhaber delivered the pass of the night to set up C.J. Sapong for Sporting’s only goal.

After halftime, Vermes also made the rare move of bringing on a totally new 11 players — including the first SKC action for midfielders Jorge Claros and Michael Kafari (we’ll get to them in a second). He made the even-rarer move of using a 12th substitute to bring on another newcomer, midfielder Martin Steuble.

The second eleven was far less effective than the first. Not a shock when you consider that midfielder Victor Munoz was deputized as a left back and had his hands full with Spanish winger Jesus Navas.

While Sporting lost, at least there were no apparent injuries and the first eleven (with Zusi popping back in for Mikey Lopez) could be the same as the lineup for Toronto as it was against Los Angeles.

2. Bieler Lives!

Sporting KC’s long-lost forward Claudio Bieler actually got on the field after missing the last nine MLS games with a combination of injury and “not being Dom Dwyer.” In 45 minutes, he did have a few chances, including a golden headed opportunity stuffed by City’s Willy Caballero.

But the problems that have plagued him during his KC tenure persisted. He wasn’t terrible but he tends to get lost in the attack far too easily. City’s defenders were able to mostly isolate him as the game wore on and he lacks the motor Dwyer has to create partial chances in transition.

It probably doesn’t help that Antonio Dovale played a free role that often saw him replicating and occupying Bieler’s role and preferred positions.

3. The new midfielders

Kansas City added three new midfielders over the last two weeks, tonight was the first chance I got to see them live.

Claros was the most the most impressive of the lot. The Honduran World Cup vet played almost exclusively in the defensive midfielder spot in front of the defense. While it was just 45 minutes of action, he seemed to fit pretty well into the Sporting system. He’s comfortable on the ball, not afraid of a rough challenge (he was booked for one), capable of stepping into passing lanes and has a little bit of the vision we saw Feilhaber display in that role after Oriol Rosell left.

I’m excited to see what he can do when paired with the starters in the near future.

Kafari seems a bit more like a project. He’s a big, strong and young guy who made a few impressive attacking runs right out of the gate. However, he displayed a very sloppy first touch and seemed incredibly slow in reaction when asked to defend. A rash tackle in the box resulted in a penalty kick (which City scored on) and an early exit from the field.

While he’s unlike the other options for KC in midfield, he might be an awkward fit this season.

Steuble replaced Karafi and, while it was only for a few minutes, seemed to fit the system much better. It’s far too early to take anything solid away, but his touch and read of the game did help strengthen KC’s middle for a while.

Not bad for a guy who just arrived in KC this morning and didn’t have a chance to train with the team.