I am guilty of getting bogged down in a the formation a team presents pregame. Alignments display an organizing principle around a team’s ambition, a road map to victory. When the opening whistle blows the structure of a formation will maintain and dictate an element of play.
Sporting Kansas City’s pregame announcement of a 4-3-3 was merely a show. A familiar structure that was sure to involve playing the ball wide through Graham Zusi, or an overlapping Seth Sinovic at the opposite end, where they would lob crosses to a phantom 6’3” Sierra Leonean forward they sold during the last summer window. If SKC failed to get pass Houston for a third straight year it would be on Peter Vermes the Technical Director, rather than Peter Vermes the coach.
Coach Vermes put forth a tactical plan that took advantage of the Houston Dynamo’s recent injuries. Sporting gravitated toward the center and occupied the space typically manned by Ricaldo Clark. CJ Sapong and Graham Zusi penciled in as wing forwards with Dom Dwyer as the center forward. As the game played out, SKC moved Sapong to a more box-to-box role in the center right, mirroring Paulo Nagamura. Zusi tucked in behind Dwyer and in front of Nagamura as a center attacking midfield.
SKC dared Houston to send Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie. Could Houston risk bombing down the wings in a winner take all road game with two injured starters? It was a calculated risk that paid off for SKC.
When Ashe found the space, he provided the two of the best chances, though neither leading to a goal. For most of the first half, Ashe held back waiting to defend a right forward that rarely came. Instead it was Chance Myer that penetrated the right side on the attacking third, even laying a sitter for Dwyer in the first ten minutes. Zusi sent in six crosses from varies spots around the box, none connected with their targets. In the CAM role neither Zusi nor Benny Feilhaber were flawless, especially considering the opposition’s disarray in the midfield, but ultimately effective.
Rather than playing a flat 4-4-2 or a diamond, keeping organized, and countering, Houston matched SKC’s formation. Houston forfeited their advance in the midfield by playing three midfielders (Brad Davis, Warren Creavalle, and Giles Barnes), with their right midfielder Oscar Boniek García as right forward and Andrew Driver on the top left. Unlike SKC, Houston remained within this structure, which may have very well been their undoing.
It was clear Barnes was out of his element as a central midfielder. If people want to criticize Zusi for having zero shots on goal during the playoffs or Brad Davis for not stepping up in KC, without calling out Barnes they either didn’t watch the game or are desperate to appear edgy by calling out USNMT members. Barnes lost possession 10 times and only successfully completed 8 passes. According to Opta, Barnes only had 35 registered actions, of all the starters only Jimmy Nelson had less with 22.Houston essentially played 10 on 11.
Creaville was overwhelmed with SKC’s central overload. Davis had to remove himself from the attacking position to put out fires. The winning goal was a microcosm of the problem. Creaville fails on a sliding attempt on Zusi. Barnes jogs back to defensefive yards behind the play. Ashe challenges Zusi, who passes to Feilhaber. Barnes still jogging back, btu now three yards behind. Creaville recovers and gets to the side of Feilhaber just as he chips in through to Dwyer. Barnes couldn’t even jog into the box before the goal is scored. The Houston two man midfield could only survive so long. Unlike the first goal the backline didn’t make a mistake.
Vermes out coached Dom Kinnear. He put a plan together that Houston was unable to survive. If Barnes was injured than Kinnear failed to recognize it and left his team venerable.
With another two week break before the MLS Cup final can Vermes the coach once again make up for what Vermes the executive let slip away.
This week’s throw-in:
- I chose to discuss the Eastern Finals over Por – RSL because I felt it had more to consume in the way of tactic alterations. Portland created opportunity but couldn’t get out of their own way. Early injuries, goals waived off due to penalties and offsides, and missed sitters overshadowed the match. It was a more entertaining game early on, but ultimately became a game about multiple missed opportunities.
- If Diego Valeri wins goal of the year the Cascadian Mafia rigged it. The Camilo goal was an out-of-this-world-jump-off-the-couch-screamer, no one who watched it live could forget it. The Henry one-timer bicycle was perfect, but routine for a GOTY contender. The Agudelo goal was a special little rarity when cleverness meets luck. Valeri’s goal is a nice goal of the week but in no way should represent MLS as GOTY.
- The Waiver Draft happened Monday. I filled out my Mock Draft sheet and had both Toronto FC players going. Figured anyone that’s fortunate enough to get out of Toronto would play their pants off for peanuts.