There were clips of Sporting KC all over social media this weekend, and lots of pictures of Sporting KC leading images on websites. That's good!
Those clips and pictures were all of Gareth Bale scoring his maiden MLS goal against Sporting KC in a defeat that left Peter Vermes' side languishing bottom of the Western Conference. That's bad.
That's right, Sporting KC continued a torrid 2022 with defeat at home to the Western Conference-leading Californian side, going down 2-0 thanks to an opener from Cristian Arango and the headline-grabbing strike from Bale late on.
For all the doom and gloom of the result (and the last three paragraphs) though, the game was far from an unmitigated disaster. Sporting KC actually competed fairly well against the team with the best record in all of MLS, keeping things tight until Arango's goal after half time.
Gareth Bale scored his first LAFC goal against Sporting KC's backup goalkeeper
Veteran goalkeeper Tim Melia returned to the side after two games out with a shoulder injury and performed well until a hamstring issue forced him off not long after half time, having made two saves and kept the score at 0-0 in his 53 minutes.
Unfortunately, substitute stopper John Pulskamp wasn't able to replicate that performance and conceded the opener just three minutes after coming on. Like Melia, he faced two shots on target in the game. Unlike Melia, he let both of them in – beaten at his near post by Arango and by a pretty weak attempt from Bale, both saveable by a keeper having a decent game.
General team performance aside, that Pulskamp performance – and Melia's second injury this month – raises some serious questions for Vermes and co in the off-season (if Vermes keeps his job that long). Namely, does Sporting KC have their goalkeeper for 2023 currently on the roster?
Melia's contract is up at the end of the year and, with KC holding one of the worst defensive records in the league this season, it seems like it might be time to move on from the 36-year-old when his deal ends. How many goalkeepers get better in their age-37 season? Hint: it's not many.
That leaves the 21-year-old Pulskamp who, despite having some obvious physical gifts, still looks too raw for MLS action. At this point, his place on the bench may be doing his development more harm than good, with match experience key to a keeper's growth at this stage in his career. Whether that experience should come with Sporting KC II, a loan move or him replacing Melia for the rest of the campaign, it's time for the club to figure out what they have in the highly-touted youngster.
The third option? Take the $525,000 that they'll save if (and when) Melia leaves at the end of the season and reinvest it in a new starter. Bill Hamid should be available in free agency and, having earned $700,000 this year, would be in a price range that Sporting KC could afford.
David Ochoa will be a free agent too, a young keeper with more hype and first-team experience than Pulskamp – but one who seems destined to leave MLS, with some big names in Europe hovering.
Of course, the club could always go outside of the free agent market and try to swing a trade in the off-season. Goalkeeper may not be their only need this winter, but it'll certainly be among them. Watch this space.