This late in the season winning one out of six matches is reserved for cellar dwellers and squads trying to get their coach fired.
Sporting Kansas City and Peter Vermes artfully survived the World Cup break to remain in striking distance for the Supporter Shield. Yet, since August 1st SKC has only earned 4 points in Major League Soccer league play.
Has the season ending injury of Chance Myers and the sale of Oriol Rosell finally caught up with SKC? Are Matt Besler, who has not looked up to the standard expected, and Graham Zusi suffering from World Cup fatigue? Did Vermes overestimate the squad’s personnel and not opt for late season reinforcements?
It is likely Sporting is suffering from all three issues at varying degrees especially since those problems are not mutually exclusive. Neither is the fact that SKC might just be flat track bullies.
This season Sporting’s record against teams with 35 or more points as of September 11th is 4-8-4 totaling 16 points out of a possible 48. Against opponents with less than 35 points, Sporting is 8-2-2 with 26 of 36 points.
What’s significant about teams with 35 points? Those clubs, excluding Toronto FC at 33, are currently in a playoff position or a single win out.
The team currently holding the top spot in the Eastern Conference, DC United, has a 7-7-3 record against the 35 and plus clubs, and 7-2-2 with teams less than. FC Dallas, on the same number of points as SKC with 42, is 4-6-5 against clubs fighting for a playoff spot and 8-3-1 against the rest.
This doesn’t speak well for Sporting’s chances in the playoffs. The loss of above-league-average talent in Ori and Myers appears to be the marginal advantage SKC had over the best MLS squads. Their defensive performance has clearly suffered. Sporting has 34 goals against, allowing goals in 28 games. This is more than they have given up in the entry of both 2012 and 2013.
Their replacements are adequate, but they are not equals. Igor Julião is an interesting young talent at rightback, and a great value at under $50,000 per year, but lacks the consistent performance especially tracking back that Myers provided. Lawrence Olum at defensive mid has been hot and cold, at his best he can free up Benny Feilhaber to pull the strings in a central midfield role, however there has been games where Besler and Aurélien Collin are forced to emergency defend. Olum appears to lack the mobility and speed needed to play in the Vermes press as effectively as Ori.
So what’s the matter with Kansas City?
The squad depth; due to injuries and the inability to replace key personnel, which puts greater pressure on their fatigued DPs is resulting in a worse defense than the last two seasons and is causing SKC to suffer against MLS playoff teams.
Return of This Week’s Throw-Ins:
- I have a feeling Joe Gyau and Gyasi Zardes will be fighting each other for US Men’s National Team spots for the next 4 years. They are both speedy wingers/forwards that use their athletics to run at defenders, a nice change of pace player to have on the bench. Joe Gyau impressed a lot of people in the friendly against the Czech Republic and received equally harsh criticism a day later to counteract the praise. MLS watchers know Zardes, warts and all, and it is surprising to some that he is the top scoring US player. People see it more as an indictment of the league than evidence of growth and development by Zardes. Regardless where you stand it is a nice problem for the USMNT to have for the next 4 years.
- CONCACAF Champions League play returns next week. The New York Red Bulls travel to the Montreal Impact, no biggie. Sporting and the Portland Timbers each play home. The only team to travel outside of US and Canada is DC United which plays Waterhouse in Kingston, Jamaica. It’s no Portland to Guyana, but will still have an after effect. It will be interesting to see how Ben Olsen handles the travel.
- With Chivas USA completely in the can and Erick Torres’ struggle as of late, Tommy Thompson has moved into the top spot of the must watch youth player on a bad team. Now can we just get him some appearances for the USMNT U-20 and U-23?