Nov 6, 2013, 3:35 PM EDT
- League’s best defense needs to play like league’s best defense.
Kansas City gave up less than a goal-per-game this year (0.88 goals/game) and didn’t concede in 180 regular season minutes against New England, but in a 13-minute span of Saturday’s second half, Sporting conceded twice. The outburst ended a near-three month span where Kansas City had failed to concede multiple goals (last doing so on Aug. 3, vs. New York).
The first goal? Perhaps the team could have done something to stop it, but there was a degree of chaos and controversy to Andy Dorman’s opener that makes it hard to blame the defense. The second, however, came when Kansas City needed their defense to step up most, and after their midfield turned the ball over near the center line, nobody kicked up Kelyn Rowe until it was too late. The second-year pro lingered on the right while the Revolution moved toward Kansas City’s penalty area. Just when it seemed that Seth Sinovic was in position, Rowe created enough room to poke Lee Nguyen’s pass beyond Jimmy Nielsen.
Part of that is Kansas City’s want to release their fullbacks early, but it was also an issue with execution. Nobody stopped Juan Agudelo from pushing forward after the turnover. Nobody stepped to Lee Nguyen as the creator tried to find the right ball. A team with two defensive midfielders and two all-league caliber defenders may as well have been D.C. United.
Matt Besler seemed conscious of the problem in a mid-week radio interview, knowing the next mistake may be their season’s last.
“We cannot give up a goal on the counterattack because it puts us in the same position as last year, needing two just to tie,” Besler told Kansas City’s SportsRadio 810. “A lot of focus is going to be not allowing the counterattack goal, and if a couple of us focus on that and do our job, I’m confident in the rest of the guys that they’re going to be able to get a ton of chances and get goals.”
- Using that midfield shield.
The postseason’s best example of the virtues of two defensive midfielders came in Los Angeles, where Jason Kreis’s use of Yordany Alvarez next to Kyle Beckerman kept the Galaxy counter at arm’s length for the first 60 minutes. In theory, if Kansas City’s guarding against counter attacks, their formation offers the same virtues, with Oriol Rosell and Lawrence Olum’s replacement (potentially Paolo Nagamura) sitting in front of the defense.1 But on Rowe’s Saturday goal, Olum allowed himself to be drawn toward Rosell, abandoning the space in front of Aurelien Collin, giving Lee Nguyen a place from which to create the goal.
So it’s not foolproof, but if Rosell and Nagamura do their jobs, fears of Nguyen and Rowe doing damage in transition should be mitigated, allowing Besler and Collin to track Agudelo while play’s slowed higher up the pitch. How they slow play, well, we’ll talk about that below, but if the defensive midfielders do their job, counters need not be as dangerous as Rowe’s was on Saturday.
Then again, if we see the return of Benny Feilhaber (and Kansas City doesn’t use two defensive midfielders), Besler’s right to be concerned about the counter.
- It’s all about chances. It’s all about goals.
Sporting need two to avoid penalty kicks (one to tie), eminently possible but made more difficult by a New England team that’s capable of holding out. The Revolution kept 14 clean sheets this season and notably went into shut down mode in the season finale at Columbus, scoring first then playing prevent to keep a clean sheet in Ohio.
That’s one concern for Kansas City. Others: Their goal scorers. Where they have depth (Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong, Dom Dwyer, … Claudio Bieler?) they lack the kind of quality you envision winning a one-on-one battles with Jose Goncalves. No, that’s not the only way to score goals, but it does illustrate Sporting’s problem. Graham Zusi can create as many chances as he wants in front of the line (and tonight, expect New England to be better about containing that), but unless somebody steps up to finish, it’s all for naught. Sporting’s left relying on penalty area chaos that finds the likes of Collin.
This isn’t the type of game Kansas City likes to play, but champions have to succeed outside their comfort zone. Sporting need to implement a plan that creates better chances. Instead of protecting a lead, they have to be able to hunt one, because tonight at Sporting Park, they may get a taste of their own medicine.
- This is where style could hurt.
Beyond a want to sit on leads, one of Sporting’s distinct characteristics is their, umm, “strategic physicality”. Another way to read that: Fouls. They pulled away from the pack as the league’s most foul prone team, and while that tendency wasn’t in full effect on Saturday, the game did feature seven cards.
Here’s a problem for KC: What if the whistles aren’t going their way? What if the cards start flying early, Rosell, Nagamura,and Collin can’t take their usual liberties, and they’re left trying to keep New England on two without the ability to play to their strengths? All of a sudden, the likes to Agudelo, Rowe, and Nguyen are going to seem particularly quick.
Or, what happens if they keep picking up yellow cards? Those inevitable accumulation suspensions aren’t going to hurt them in the next round?
While we’re throwing out theories as to why Kansas City’s can’t translate regular season success into postseason glory, this is part of the picture. Maybe it’s not about total whistles and cards, but maybe it’s about a physical approach that’s much better suited to playing from ahead. And in the postseason, against better teams, you’re just more likely to fall behind.
- Obligatory note about history.
About those postseason problems:
- In 2010, Sporting finished first in the regular season, got by Colorado in the conference semifinals but lost at home to Houston in the East’s title game.
- In 2011, Sporting finished first in the East and lost in the conference semifinals to Houston.
- In 2012, they return home down 2-1 after leg one in New England.
It’s time to reverse the trend.
1 – Thanks to a reader’s comment, below, we were reminded (a.) we went too fast, and (b.) didn’t note Lawrence Olum’s injury. The man’s done for the season. Thanks to dreadpirate82 to picking up a mistake we should have caught before posting the story.
Sep 1, 2014, 7:55 AM EDT
Manchester United are reportedly close to securing a world-class striker for just $9 million.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:42 AM EDT
Roundup of MLS action this weekend.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Roundup of football transfers across Europe today.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Real Madrid manager insisted that his squad just lost focus on Sunday when they were upset by Real Sociedad.
Aug 31, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT
Darren Fletcher isn’t perturbed by Manchester United’s super-early season struggles.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
Jermain Defoe has been linked away from Toronto FC, with a possible return back to England.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:18 PM EDT
Real Madrid didn’t display their standard victorious level of play as Real Sociedad shocked Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Aug 31, 2014, 5:22 PM EDT
D.C. United keeps strong at the head of the Eastern Conference, defeating the New York Red Bulls, 2-0.
Aug 31, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT
Quick recap of the Premier League’s Sunday matches.
Aug 31, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT
Geoff Cameron has withdrawn from the United States’ latest roster prepped for the Czech Republic match.
Aug 31, 2014, 2:53 PM EDT
DC United hopes to fend off Bradley Wright-Phillips and company in the Atlantic Cup.
Aug 31, 2014, 2:39 PM EDT
With things not going as planned, Nelsen is out.
Aug 31, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
Despite Yaya Sanogo’s disappointing performance against Leicester City, Wenger may sit on his squad.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT
After spending a career on the bench at Manchester United, he’s going to another club where he’ll likely be a backup.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:57 PM EDT
Leo Ulloa hit back at Arsenal’s early goal and Leicester held on strong against a tired and wasteful Arsenal.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:23 PM EDT
It appears the usually erratic, angry, and impulsive Mario Balotelli is nowhere to be found, and the Liverpool manager is to thank.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:33 AM EDT
With Torres, Lukaku, and Ba all gone and Costa proving injury prone, Remy comes in as cover at Stamford Bridge.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT
Yaya Sanogo starts up front in place of the injured Olivier Giroud. Esteban Cambiasso is on the bench for Leicester.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
Aston Villa were bright nearly the whole match but struggled to fend off Hull late in a close victory.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:22 AM EDT
Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard both scored as Liverpool rocked Spurs yet again in London.
- Reports: Manchester United nearing cut-price loan for Falcao 0
- Toronto FC fire Ryan Nelsen thanks to disappointing position and disparaging comments 1
- Leicester City 1-1 Arsenal: Home side holds strong for draw 3
- Done deal: Chelsea sign Loic Remy from QPR 0
- Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool: Familiar scenes as Reds storm Spurs in London 4
- Premier League Sunday Preview: Tottenham host Liverpool, Arsenal face Leicester 0