Thursday, June 20, 2013

Some Thoughts on Sporting KC and Their Current Issues

I've previously posted about my frustrations with Kansas City's home form and the thought of it being a fortress. But really what is causing this, especially lately, when KC has won a grand total of two of their last seven games at Sporting Park.  Those two wins being against 10 man Chivas USA and the Des Moines Menace.  Not exactly high profile wins on your resume.

The one of the big issues for Kansas City at home is an issue that has plagued them for a while, and that's scoring. Removing the win against Chivas (because come on, it's Chivas) and Des Moines (a bunch of college kids), KC has scored just seven goals at home in all competitions.  Surprisingly, opponents have scored eight at Sporting Park in those same games (seven goals allowed in league play). They also have a losing record in all competitions at home of 2-4-2, (2-3-2 in league play without the Chivas win).

KC has trailed at home this season in five games in all competitions, they've managed to pick up one point from a losing position at home this season (1-1 draw with Houston). In fact in eight games both home and away this season when they've trailed they've only picked up four points (3-1 season opener vs Philadelphia are the other points KC has picked up from a losing position) from losing positions.

On the other hand, they've led at one point in 10 games this season.  In those 10 games, they've coughed up eight points (losses to Portland and Montreal after leading, and a draw with DC). Six of those eight points have been given up at home.

Yet in 10 of the 17 games KC has played this season in all competitions, they have been able to out shoot, have more shots on goal and out possess teams. Even with the statistical advantage, KC's record in all competitions this year is 7-6-4. One would think that with such an advantage that KC would have a better record.

What's becoming more obvious is that if KC can't score early, then they're going to struggle to break down a defense that comes to KC and sits back.  When they have scored later in the game it's taken some individual brilliance to make it happen, Soony Saad setting up Claudio Bieler against DC for example. The longer games go scoreless, especially at Sporting Park, the more teams are going to set up an arc around their penalty area and force KC to try to break them down.  This is what DC and Chicago basically did, this is absolutely what Orlando did, even Richmond a few years ago did it. They let KC have all the possession in the world around the top of the box and on the wings, forcing KC into long shots or crosses and those got eaten for breakfast for the most part.

On the other hand some teams have come to play at Sporting Park.  Portland came in and took KC's high pressure and shoved it right back down KC's throat taking the game to KC and striking on the counter.  Montreal came in and while they didn't take KC's game to them, they came in and played their style.  The first time the teams met, KC's early goal unsettled the Impact and KC took the game to them after that.  In the rematch, Montreal changed their tactics a bit and really were able to control the game against KC up until the Alessandro Nesta red card.

One of the keys to success for these teams that have come in and taken care of business at Sporting Park has been because of KC's struggles in midfield. Benny Feilhaber up to this point has not lived up to expectations, and the one time he has (the first game against Montreal), KC looked like the class of the league.  Unfortunately he hasn't really shown up since. And then against Orlando was subbed out before the hour mark for Lawrence Olum.  That would certainly seem to speak volumes to the way he'd played in the game.  It's not like he was being pulled to rest him for a league game 10 days later or something.

Against Orlando that left KC facing a team that was sitting back not allowing a lot of passing lanes, without probably the one guy on the roster that night can play a ball that splits defenders.  Not saying that Feilhaber would have if he'd stayed on the field.  But he's arguably the only player on against Orlando that could do it.  That again would seem to speak of how Vermes saw his play up to that point that he preferred having Paulo Nagamura and Oriol Rosell do more of the playmaking.  Which by itself is another mistake, because neither one of them is really able to play that offensive of a role.

The roles of Nagamura and Rosell have been an issue against the other two styles that KC has seen come in at Sporting Park.  Matched up against Portland, both teams played a high pressure style, which Portland exploited to perfection a couple times.  Part of that problem is how far forward that Nagamura and Rosell were getting in that game.  Vermes has done more to allow all three central midfielders a chance to get forward this year.  Last year Julio Cesar sat back more as the stop gap between the midfield and the defense.  Neither Rosell or Nagamura play that role in the current system. There was also Roger Espinoza in front of Cesar, playing that "controlled chaos" role that he plays so well.  While Nagamura is a serviceable box-to-box midfielder, he's no Espinoza (but to be fair there's maybe only one midfielder in the league I'd put up against Espinoza's style, and that's Osvaldo Alonso).  Both are given the ability to get forward more and at times it's left KC's two center backs exposed on the break.

The big thing right now is getting the midfield under control.  With Bieler up top I know that goals will come, although it may be as frustrating as previous years when KC's shot percentage is one of the worst in the league, but goals will come.  The main thing right now is fix the midfield.  Whether Vermes give some more defined roles or bring in more players. 

I'm not sure though that more defined roles in the solution.  Rosell isn't a Cesar, he's not going to fit that role.  Nagamura can play the box-to-box role, but he's no Espinoza. And Feilhaber up to this point has been the bust most New England fans expected him to be, he'd even lost his starting spot to Peterson Joseph for a time.

The problem is that you can't really move any of those players. Rosell is the class of the group, he's been extremely solid and I think will only continue to grow.  Moving him wouldn't be smart.  As for the other two, Nagamura and Feilhaber are combined making over $500,000.  No team is going to want to take on all that salary, so KC would be forced to eat a portion if they could even find a team that was interested in taking either player on.  To compound that, KC would need to find someone to replace one or both of them, should they find someone that will take them.

At this point, those three will be with KC for the rest of the season.  The question is whether KC will be able to make any moves that will actually push the current players to up their game to keep their spot.


Reepicheep said...

Yes, we have a midfield deficiency right now for sure. Add to that the absence of Besler and Zusi. Sapong's complete and utter ineffectiveness as a wing forward (OK, add Peterson in there), and some mysterious lack of Chance Myers in the line up, and you have a team in dissarray.

I've never been a fan of Vermes, and what is happening now is exactly why.

He locks in to a 4-3-3 with a roster of guys who can't play it. He refuses to change it, to the tune of 2 weak wins at home over the last couple of months. He bitches about other teams hunkering down, when it's exactly the right thing to do against KC's style.

I could go on....

They should at least switch to a 4-4-2 right away. Bunbury and Bieler up top. Push Kamara out wide, etc. etc.

Eric Atcheson said...

I agree the midfield isn't getting it done, but the bigger problem is, I think, on the wings. Take out Kei and Zeus as our starting wingers, and our attack loses the vast majority of its creativity. (To be clear, I do think Benny has disappointed, but I don't think he has been as bad as most fans say. I also think the knock on Paulo isn't his play, it's that he's not Roger Espinoza. Paulo is not part of the problem, imo.)

I don't think the 433 is the problem. It's that when PV's 433 doesn't have its first choice personnel, it suffers big time. As it should.

Nathan Martin said...

PV should take some inspiration, as he has in the past, from the national team.

A mimicking of the recent tweaks by Klinnsman would see Sapong underneath Bieler. Feilhaber/Joseph would be benched. Nagamura would shift closer to Rosell.

A 4-2-3-1, if you will.

I expect changes. Let's hope that they are good ones.

Anonymous said...

Numbers in the midfield.. 442, 4231 whatever.

Fielhaber has more tackles than Nagamura, Nagamura has more passes in the attacking third. Sigh..

Bench Vermes.