Rough start for Sporting KC no surprise
By Nathan Dunn
Off to one of the worst starts in club history, Sporting Kansas City is picking up where they ended last year. And that isn't a surprise.
From the opening four games, SKC has one win and three losses while getting outscored 8-3. It began with a 3-1 loss at Atlanta United; then a 1-0 win at home against Houston Dynamo; followed by a 2-0 loss away to Colorado Rapids; and the most recent 3-1 loss away to Chicago Fire FC.
It was always going to be a tough beginning the year with three of the first four games on the road. All three of those road games were against opposition with reasonably high expectations. But to lose all three of those games by multiple goals, and not really being in it, is a great concern.
Defensively, the team has not been great with some uncharacteristic mistakes by veteran players. But the real concern must be in the midfield and going forward.
In the midfield, the team has struggled to get a grip of the game. Ageing midfielder Roger Espinoza can only do so much while other talented midfielders haven't been near their best. On another note, two of SKC's three goals have come from the midfield. Remi Walter, who scored against Houston, was joined by Espinoza in scoring a well-worked goal against Chicago.
Traditionally, Sporting is a team that relies on its wingers to carry much of the scoring load. Looking to make the most out of it, manager Peter Vermes went out and bought Liga MX star center forward Alan Pulido in 2019. His versatility — willingness to defend, drop deep, etc — and work rate seemed like a good fit in the SKC system.
That move still has not bared great fruit as Pulido has struggled with injury for much of his SKC tenure. That will not change this year as the No. 9 is expected to be sidelined the entire season due to knee surgery.
So without Pulido available, Sporting is left with Khiry Shelton — a forward who doesn't score. Sure, he does great work elsewhere, but when the chances are as rare as they are this season it would be greatly beneficial to have a clinical center forward.
As if things weren't bad enough, Sporting is also dealing with some injury issues. Shelton is among those injured. Replacing Shelton has been new signing Nikola Vujnovic. With little time to get acclimated with the team, Vujnovic has been thrown straight into the starting XI and played all 90 minutes the past two games. The results haven't been great as the team scored just once in those two games.
Joining the injury report has also been wingers Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell — the team's two leading scorers last season. With injuries mounting, Sporting KC has been forced to give Marinos Tzionis two straight starts. Tzionis hasn't had a great impact either.
With time, one can only hope that Vujnovic and Tzionis become impactful players in this Sporting side. Until that time comes, it appears the offensive production is going to be limited.
Sporting KC is typically a shoo-in for the playoffs every year, making them all but one year since 2011. For 2022, that is different. SKC will be fighting just to make the playoffs. It is still very early, but there will need to be some big improvements for the team to have another opportunity to play in the postseason.
The good news for SKC is that this should be their worst run of form this season. Over the coming weeks, they should get some guys back from injuries and really begin their 2022 campaign.