Since Peter Vermes' first full season in charge of Sporting Kansas City he's worked to fit the team into his image and get a team that will play the style that he wants them to play. A high speed, high tempo, attacking oriented style through the 4-3-3 formation.
Through his time he's gone through a number of different players trying to get the best group of players to make that formation work for him. Over the past two seasons he's had probably his best lineup for that. With the likes of Kei Kamara, CJ Sapong, and Teal Bunbury up top, with Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, and Julio Cesar in the midfield, and the development of Chance Myers and Matt Besler along with additions of Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic have made the defense solid. The 4-3-3 has helped to lead Kansas City to two straight 1st place finishes in the Eastern Conference in the regular season and a US Open Cup title last season.
But then this offseason, Roger Espinoza departed for the Premier League, and Kei Kamara followed going on loan at least until May. With those two gone, Sporting KC's 4-3-3 so far this season has looked different. Without Kamara, KC lost a lot of athleticism in their attack, the unpredictability, and the speed that Kamara brought. His move to Norwich on loan has also affected KC defensively as well, as it's hurt Chance Myers and his ability to get forward. Zusi, who played in the right forward spot in the first two games has played quite well , he's not the same type of player as Kamara, he doesn't offer the same style that Kamara did that really complemented Myers.
Without Espinoza, KC's midfield has changed a bit. Paulo Nagamura has helped to fill the void, but no one can replace Espinoza's work ethic and engine on the field. Oriol Rosell has done a decent job of replacing Julio Cesar, but doesn't have the experience of the Brazilian.
With those two exiting, KC has moved new parts in and has kept the 4-3-3. Zusi has moved into the right forward position with Benny Feilhaber moving into the midfield. With the changes though the team just doesn't seem to be playing the same. The style that KC exhibited in the 4-3-3 the last two years isn't there. The team now has more play making ability in the lineup, but don't have the dynamic game changer there like Kamara. So far this season, Kansas City's new designated player, Claudio Bieler, while having scored 2 goals this season has been starved for service for long periods of the game. With Zusi on one wing and Bobby Convey on the other, Sporting is getting some service, but the crosses aren't the type of service that Bieler really takes advantage of. When CJ Sapong has come on, KC has scored 3 of their 4 goals. When Sapong was inserted into the lineup over the weekend against the Fire, I had hopes that Sapong would be able to combine with Bieler more, but it didn't work as well as expected. Sapong spent a lot of time out wide on the right and didn't really get much opportunity to combine with Bieler.
At this point you have to start to wonder if Kansas City needs to consider a switch to a 4-4-2 from the 4-3-3. While the 3 forward lineup has served KC well, with the pieces that Kansas City currently has a 4-4-2 would fit more for KC.
A 4-4-2 formation would allow Kansas City to play with Bieler and Sapong paired together up top with Sapong playing more back to goal and Bieler being able to play off of him. I think that style would benefit both players as Bieler has been isolated quite a bit this year with the way KC has played, providing him with a partner I think would make Bieler more successful.
In the midfield KC could play two main different ways. The team could play an "empty bucket" with 2 of Zusi, Feilhaber, and Convey on the two wings with Nagamura and Rosell behind them in the middle playing more defensively. The other possibility is to have all 3 of Zusi, Feilhaber, and Convey on the field with Nagamura or Rosell playing the defensive midfield position behind them. This puts a lot of pressure on whichever of the two plays the defensive midfield position, but could be a good formation for KC to play at home where teams are going to sit back and KC is going to have the possession to play another attacking midfielder.
The 4-3-3 has served KC quite well the past two years. But with KC's player personnel right now, it may be time to take a step away from that formation, at least temporarily, and play a formation that will play more to KC's strengths and get Bieler some support up top so he is not as isolated.