Can Sporting KC Erase Playoff Troubles?

Heading into a second leg at Sporting Park, a scoreless draw in Houston puts Sporting in a good position
by Skylar Rolstad   |   Monday, November 11, 2013

State of SKC - column on Sporting KC (SKC) & the Kansas City soccer scene.

To the tune of victorious cheers and a chant bellowing his name, Benny Feilhaber left the field at Sporting Park in the dying moments of Sporting’s second leg triumph over New England Revolution. The American midfielder playing his former club had taken control of his position in the midfield and put in one of the best shifts of any Sporting KC midfielder this season. This performance culminated in an assist of Claudio Bieler’s game-winning goal. 

Feilhaber had not played in a game since Oct 18. Bieler, the player he assisted, hadn’t played since the same game, a 1-0 win against DC United.

Through 90 minutes, Sporting had found a way to level the score on aggregate.  Seth Sinovic’s goal evened out the score after Dimitry Imbongo connected with a free kick from eight yards out.  Bieler’s game-winner in the 113th minute was his first goal since a converted penalty kick against the Columbus Crew on Sept. 7.

Sporting were left with a few days’ rest, and then traveled to Houston to take on their arch rivals for the third consecutive time in the playoffs.  Last season, this matchup was ominous heading to Kansas City, a 2-0 loss.  This time, Sporting’s 0-0 draw with Houston was frankly rather boring, but SKC will take a draw any day. Houston Dynamo played 3 matches within the last week, having played against Montreal in the play-in game and winning a 2-legged series against New York Red Bulls that went into extra time.

The clash with the Dynamo at BBVA this time was as scrappy as a Houston-KC match ever has been. The game was managed very well by Sporting’s defense, but the personnel up front could not reciprocate that. Teal Bunbury, Jacob Peterson and Graham Zusi were featured up top.  This combination of forwards were not conducive to being able to keep the ball, but that is not exactly what Sporting was looking for.

Playing away to Houston, SKC seemed to look for counter-attacking opportunities more than possession. Sporting lost the possession battle with 48% of the ball. A pass completion percentage below 70% for each team prevented either from getting inside to score.  Claudio Bieler brought Sporting a new element to their attack that Bunbury and Dwyer have not offered, the ability to go further into the midfield and play off of midfield players like Rosell, Zusi and Feilhaber to get in on goal. Bieler should be expected to start in the home leg, as the matchup at Sporting Park will be more favorable for possession tactics.

Will Sporting finally exercise its playoff demons on Nov. 23? They have already put themselves in a good position, and are gaining momentum heading into the home leg. Fatigue, however, will not be a factor for either of these teams, as the MLS Playoffs pause for international break next weekend.

NEXT UP: November 23 – MLS playoffs: Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo, Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kans. Time TBD

Skylar ROLSTAD

Nationality:
USA
College:
Univ. of Kansas
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
AC Milan
A student at the University of Kansas. He writes for the Sporting Kansas City club column for Soccer Newsday and is a regular at Sporting Park. His passion for soccer can best be described as unhealthy.
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