Dom Dwyer got the ball rolling for Sporting KC in the 18 minute when Toronto FC MF Jackson took down Benny Feilhaber in the box, which ended with Dwyer blasting a sublime penalty kick into the net. Sporting KC never looked back, piling on three more goals–one of which came from another TFC penalty– enroute to a 4-1 thrashing of Michael Bradley’s boys.
Here’s 5 takeaways from the key victory at Sporting Park.
1. Jon Kempin is legit
Although he performed well in his 45 minute spell last week at Vancouver, I highlighted technical concerns in his gameplay (link). He wasn’t perfect today either, but he stepped up when he was needed. Kempin made two amazing reaction saves tonight, which both prevented TFC from getting back into the game.
His best save of the night came in the 50 minute, TFC striker Gilberto broke away from the defense to set up a 1-on-1 with Kempin, but Kempin stoned him inside the box to prevent the game-tying goal. (Watch the save–sorry, MLS hasn’t hosted the embed links yet).
In the 70 minute, it wasn’t a save but an amazing play on Jackson, who was charging at Kempin in a 3v1 in the box. Kempin perfected timed the charge, and made an excellent attempt at stopping the play. Although he barely missed, he tied up Jackson for just long enough to prevent him from passing it off to his two open teammates. This allowed Aurelien Collin–who missed a tackle, opening up the 3v1– to come from behind and clear the ball as Jackson’s right leg was loading up for a back-netter. (Watch)
2. Graham Zusi logged the best game of his career
There’s a reason why stats tell you next to nothing in soccer, and Zusi’s play tonight highlights why. He recorded one assist on the night, no goals–eh, just another game right?
Zusi operates as a classic assist man, but tonight he played with aggression instead of finesse. In the 52 minute, Zusi bolted down the right flank in the attacking third AND took on two defenders. He juked and muscled his way past the first, and got past the sliding challenge of the second defender before he was forced out of bounds for a corner kick.
Speaking of corner kicks, Zusi displayed his class from the flags tonight. He took all of Sporting’s 10 corner kicks, and not only did two lead to SKC goals, nearly all of his other eight services created a scoring chance.
He played a divine low driving corner late in the game, tricking GK Bendik into playing the near post, while a sliding CJ Sapong pushed it into the back of the net. (Watch)
The second goal that came off his corner was an absolute laser by Soony Saad. After Zusi’s corner was headed high and backwards toward right outside the box, Saad touched it and volleyed the shot in the upper left hand corner that even Neuer couldn’t have stopped.
3. Opposing pace is a problem for Sporting
Gilberto ran circles around the SKC defense tonight. He only scored one, but could’ve easily added a brace or hattrick with better finishing. The service from Michael Bradley is a plus, but there appeared to be a lack of ability to match his speed from any of the SKC defense. Additionally, Dominic Oduro caused a few problems for the defense tonight with his speed. Sinovic’s defensive effort was praiseworthy, and held Oduro in check compared to the match at BMO Field. But Oduro’s speed helped create the Gilberto goal, as well as it created two chances in the opening ten minutes for him to score.
4. Sporting really, really misses Chance Myers
Maybe this is 3a, but this is a separate issue because its been a theme. Juliao looked particularly bad tonight, perhaps one of the only SKC players that I wouldn’t rate highly tonight. His constant forward-bombing style left Besler, Collin, and others to pick up the mess he left behind. Typically this isn’t a horrible thing for a guy replacing the equally forward-rushing Chance Myers, but he needs to have better situational awareness. Not all teams have the pace TFC possess, so in a game like tonight he should’ve been sitting back more often to prevent breakaways.
His poor play last week compounds the issue. He opened the scoring against Vancouver with an own goal. The second goal wasn’t his mistake, but I was fuming when I saw him stop running about five seconds before Darren Mattocks scored. Juliao had an opportunity to disrupt the shot, but instead he slacked off.
With the transfer deadline approaching, this is something that needs to be addressed if Sporting wants to repeat as MLS Champions.
5. Continuity is overrated; well managed beats well paid
Peter Vermes has rolled out a different lineup for every game this MLS season. Which is kind of impressive, because that’s a lot of permutations for one team. Oh, and I guess the whole ‘leading the Eastern Conference and leading the Supporters’ Shield race’ is kind of impressive too.
Seriously though, the adversity that Vermes has faced with his roster over the last two years is a story of its own. The team’s best player, Kei Kamara, left for the EPL twice last season (the last being permanent). The team’s best midfielder, Roger Espinoza, left for Wigan after the 2012 season. Uri Rosell, the team’s best defensive midfielder, left a couple months ago for Lisbon. Club legend Jimmy Nielsen left at the end of last season. Not to mention the six games that Zusi and Besler missed for the World Cup. The list goes on.
And unlike Toronto, our owners don’t take wads of money and throw them at players. Sporting maintains a tight budget. Yet here we are, constantly replacing our best players, constantly shifting our lineups due to injury, and we’re sitting on top of the MLS. The $10 million dollar man Michael Braley played great today, but its other (reportedly) $10 million man, Jermain Defoe, hasn’t played in his team’s two most important matches of the season.
The Sporting Way is a thing. And it’s not going away anytime soon.