Sporting Kansas City are a team in trouble. We look at what needs to change.
We’ve already asked this question once, but it’s worth revisiting. If you’re like me you’re frustrated with Sporting Kansas City. During the offseason I thought they went out and really solidified their roster by going and acquiring veterans to add depth. During preseason they looked extremely good, and getting four wins out of the first five regular season games had me extremely excited for what was to come from this season.
Since then this team has spiraled out of control. Sporting KC do have one last game on Thursday before there MLS takes a break for the Copa América Centenario. So what has led to these struggles, and what needs to be fixed in order to turn this season around?
Many fans want to complain about the lack of goal scoring production, but my opinion is that the first thing that needs to be fixed is the back line. During the 10 games since the slump started SKC has not scored in only four of those games, and three of the four have been on the road (I will always take one point from a 0-0 road draw).
I think you could make an argument that most of those goals have come from very bad mistakes in the back. Prime examples of this would be Tim Melia’s missed punch this Friday against DC United or Matt Besler’s awful pass out of the back against Real Salt Lake right after Melia made a bad pass to Besler. Looking back at the beginning of the season, three of Sporting KC’s four wins came while getting a shutout. Those shutouts coming from being very smart and safe in the back.
To be honest I think Nuno Coelho has been phenomenal so far this season, Matt Besler for me has been a real disappointment, and who knows what’s going on with our outside backs who have usual been a strong point on this team. When I look back at that 2013 MLS Cup winning team the first thing that comes to my mind is the back line. I was almost always sure that they could come away from a game with a shutout, but with this 2016 team I view it has how long before they gift the opposing team an opportunity.
Our front three simply aren’t producing. I get the idea from Peter Vermes to have Graham Zusi and Brad Davis inverted so that each can cut in onto their desired foot in order to shoot, but it’s simply not working. Having them inverted also requires the outside backs to get forward to serve those crosses that the wingers are not, almost always leaving SKC vulnerable to the counter attack, like against RSL.
I would like to see Zusi and Davis serving those beautiful crosses that they are so well-known for. When Dom Dwyer does get that service into the box I would like to see more near posts from him. If Dom makes that near post run it makes it difficult for the keeper to come and pick off that cross. That near post runs forces the opposing keeper to stay on his line, and allows for Roger Espinoza, or the winger on the opposite side, to worry about the middle of the goal and back post runs.
Too often Dom Dwyer simply runs to the middle of the goal making it very easy for the opposing keeper to come and deal with crosses. Like I said though if Dom is going to make these near posts runs then there has to be other runs in the box as well, which is something that SKC doesn’t do all too often.
This falls primarily on the shoulders of Benny Feilhaber. Roger Espinoza is the work horse in the midfield, and Soni Mustivar is the shield in front of the back four. Benny’s main job in the midfield is to create for the team. In the Real Salt Lake game I saw Benny halfheartedly jog around the field and seem uninspired when on the ball. It was no surprise to me when Peter Vermes put him on the bench against DC United, but when he did come on I thought Benny had more of desire to create.
Although during the DC United game Benny would get on the ball and there would be no diagonal runs behind the very high DC United back line. While Benny hasn’t been at his best so far this season, he hasn’t exactly had the runs from his teammates to allow him to slot them through on goal. So while yes blame does go on Benny, his teammates also need to give him options.
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Sporting KC have a midweek game against LA Galaxy who have only lost once in their last five, but then they have almost two weeks off before they have a U.S. Open Cup game. SKC could either face an on fire St. Louis FC team or a Minnesota United team, who has arguably one of the most dangerous strikers in American soccer in Christian Ramirez.
These up coming two weeks will be key to really turning the season around. Last season the cut off for the playoffs was 48 points. With SKC currently sitting with 17, this would require them to get 31 points from a possible 57 (19 games left in MLS season). Can they turn it around, or is it too late and they should just focus on Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League?