Efficiency Troubles Plague Sporting KC

Is it time for SKC, which has struggled recently, to adopt a new formation?
by Skylar Rolstad   |   Friday, March 29, 2013

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

The 2013 season brought a myriad of changes to Sporting Kansas City.

To name a few: brand new jerseys, the club's first jersey sponsor, a controversially sponsor-less stadium and a new designated player signing.

Most of these changes have been cosmetic, and will (hopefully) not affect what should be a promising on-field product.

However, through 4 games in 2013 the theme for Sporting's on-field performance mirrors that of the last couple years: Good build-up play and midfield domination makes for a wealth of chances on goal that are not finished.

In this season's home opener, yet another frustrating and rather soporific game against Chicago Fire gave us a scoreless draw. This game was very reminiscent of last year's 1-0 loss to the Fire.

Both matches followed the same narrative: Sporting completely locked down the midfield and absolutely dominated the score sheet, except the goals category. The only difference between 2013's home opener and a humid evening last June was a rare gash ripped into the SKC defense by Marco Pappa – who has since left Chicago and signed with SC Heerenveen in the Dutch Eredivisie.

And on Saturday in New England, the team didn't quite outclass the Revolution, but clearly won the game, save for another 0 in the goals column.

Perhaps Sporting's players, although talented and dynamic in combination play, are not designed to fit together in manager Peter Vermes' vision of the 4-3-3 formation?

Then again, maybe this is a more universal debate: Should a team choose a formation and require players to fit it, or should a team acquire talented players and implement a formation in which each player can contribute to the best of their ability? It seems Sporting has tried to build not only a constant culture off the field, but a benchmark of quality and technique on the field.

As for this universal debate, it makes sense for this team to follow the latter suggestion.

Sporting's attacking players are as follows: Teal Bunbury, Claudio Bieler, Bobby Convey, Jacob Peterson, CJ Sapong and Soony Saad. Of those 6 players, 4 (Sapong, Bieler, Saad and Bunbury) are center forwards by trade. In New England last weekend, Soony Saad and CJ Sapong played as wingers flanking Bieler. This cradle of center forwards may be better utilized in a 4-4-2 formation, where they can run onto balls being played in by a very technical midfield corps.

During the 3 games that Zusi has played yet with Sporting, he's been featured on the right wing. A 4-4-2 formation would put Zusi at that effective spot on the field while forwards like Sapong and Bieler can benefit from some more space when Zusi crosses the ball or plays it through. Also, Zusi played this sort of role in his country's spirited draw with Mexico at the Azteca Tuesday and impressed.

As for the inside, Uri Rosell, Benny Feilhaber or Paulo Nagamura could all be candidates to fill the crucial center-mid position. Rosell has been a delight to watch in hold-up and linking play.

The combination of Sapong, Bieler with Rosell in behind, Zusi on the right wing, Convey on the left wing and Nagamura playing as a defensive midfielder in a 4-4-2 diamond formation seems to me like an efficient one. Sapong would be a great decoy runner and would get great chances getting into the box with recycled runs and capitalize on rebounding shots that hit posts or defenders. Bieler, the DP goal scorer, is the player making the dynamic runs that get on the end of passes from Rosell, Zusi or Convey.

While the current formation may seem to have its flaws, Sporting's recent results are not much to worry about. They had been missing Matt Besler and Zusi for international duty in the last game against New England. Ike Opara filled in nicely for Besler and Saad covered for Zusi. It is probably best to just try to erase last weekend's match-up from your mind, as Sporting was missing those 2 as well as Chance Myers due to a hamstring injury.

In addition to that, the team took precautions against a nagging injury to Convey and sat him, and has yet to clear Jacob Peterson to play this season. Peterson played very well at the end of last season on a then-injured Convey's left wing.

On top of all this, it's only the four games in a 34-game season. However, if sub-par results continue, a change in formation might be the remedy.

NEXT UP: March 30 – Sporting KC vs. Montreal Impact, Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kans. 8:30 p.m. EST, MLS Live.

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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