This is difficult. As I think about what I dislike most about Sporting Kansas City, the answer is Peter Vermes. I know he’s a good coach and his teams have more often been successful than not... but the man whines and complains throughout the game... and then after the game. And then the next day to any media outlet that will listen.
Clearly, referees make mistakes. But in the many years that I played, I earned the vast majority of the fouls and cards called against me. As did my teammates. And the kids I’ve coached. So I find Vermes tiring. As for his complaints about SKC not getting the accolades they deserve in terms of developing homegrown players... they sold Busio to Venezia. When they develop a dozen more with similar abilities, the league will pay attention.
So as I watch Sporting struggle this season, I’m not above a bit of Schadenfreude.
Sporting enters the weekend with a record of 2W-6L-1D – good for seven points and 12th place in the Western Conference standings. There should be plenty of familiar faces this weekend. Pulido is out for the season with an injury, but Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, & Tim Melia will all be waiting for us. And that’s been part of the problem for Vermes’ squad: his loyalty to aging players seems to be catching up with them. Melia, Zusi, and Espinoza are 35. Russell and Andreu Fontas are 32. Younger players like Jaylin Lindsey and Gianluca Busio were left unprotected or sold, and Russell and Salloi are not scoring like they did last year.
Some numbers to consider before I talk about the results. Sporting has taken 102 shots this season, but only 30 have been on target – and only 6 goals. For the sake of comparison, FC Dallas’ numbers are 83, 33, and 12 – nearly 40% on target and better than 14% resulting in goals. That’s more than double Kansas City’s rate of success. Matt Doyle’s question for this team before the season was where would the goals come from without Pulido – so far the leading scorer is midfielder Remi Walter. Defensively, Sporting has given up 14 goals (21st in the league) on 30 shots (10th in the league). To say that Tim Melia is having a rough season is an understatement. Sporting’s save percentage is only ahead of Montreal. The last time I wrote about SKC, they were only winning because Melia was saving their bacon and crosses were connecting at a high rate. Those two things aren’t happening right now.
Sporting will counter-press aggressively in the attacking third but will then generally drop into a mid-block. They lack team speed – especially in midfield – and cannot afford to get caught in defensive transition.
The match against Columbus was notable mostly for the lightning delay and significant rainfall. The soccer was rough. Sporting is 8th in the league in fouls committed (and strangely 3rd in fouls suffered – I’m uncertain about correlation). Vermes’ squad enjoyed nearly twice the possession of Columbus and completed nearly twice the passes. But mostly in the backfield. They favored building on the right side through Zusi and Russell; Russell had some dangerous moments on the dribble and some dangerous crosses but didn’t manage a single shot on goal. On the opposite side, Salloi only managed a handful of touches and one shot on target.
Player Notes for Sporting Kansas City:
Rather than focus on the established core of the team that we know too well (Zusi will lead the team in touches and send in several crosses; Johnny Russell will do his best to take on Marco Farfan), let’s focus on the new crowd.
- Logan Ndenbe – The 22-year-old Belgian left-back arrived in the offseason from French Ligue 2 side EA Guingamp. He has seven appearances and five starts so far. He’s strong, fast, and physical.
- Marinos Tzionis – Another offseason acquisition – 8 appearances, 2 starts. The 20-year-old Cyprian international subbed in late and added a tactical change to the attack as he attempted to beat the Columbus defense on the dribble.
- Robert Voloder – Yet another signing. The 20-year-old German defender signed from Slovenian side NK Maribor. Nicolas Isimit-Mirin was subbed out early in Saturday’s match (The Blue Testament is reporting that he suffered a concussion and facial fracture), so Dallas may well see a combination of Voloder and former Colorado homegrown Kortne Ford.
Line-Up Prediction: 4-3-3
Salloi – Khiry Shelton – Russell
Espinoza – Rosell – Walter
Ndenbe – Voloder – Ford – Zusi
OUT: Gadi Kinda (knee surgery), Alan Pulido (knee surgery)
Saturday, 4/30 - 7:30 from Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. Should be mid-60s and sunny.