Viewing SKC's 2013 Campaign

Sporting KC has struggled so far, but has time to regroup
by Skylar Rolstad   |   Monday, June 10, 2013

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

With 15 of 34 games under Sporting Kansas City's belt and an international break in club soccer this coming weekend, now it is time to step back and assess how the team challenges for the top spot in MLS's Eastern Conference once again.

But that's only a minor goal, strange as it sounds. It's back to a 3-year-old question: Is Sporting KC good enough to win the MLS Cup?

Contrary to last year, 2013's Eastern Conference race is going to be much more competitive. As it stands now, the Montreal Impact have a bewildering 3 games in hand and are ahead of Sporting in points, 26-22.

New York stands in 2nd, while Philadelphia, Houston and SKC round out the rest of the top 5 with 22 points apiece. If that weren't precarious enough for KC, New England has a game in hand to SKC and is in 6th place with 20 points. While the team has hit a rough patch in recent games, not making the playoffs this season is a possibility that should be no more than laughable.

If Sporting is going to claim MLS' ultimate prize this time around, some better form must be found. First of all, SKC's composure in the middle must be regained.

Behind us are the days of the other team's shrinking hope as the ball is whipped across the field, and gone are the days of opposing defenses being ripped apart from both angles of the field, with the ball being driven into the 6-yard box and hit home by Kei Kamara's head or CJ Sapong's instep. Gone are clean sheet streaks and “save the trees” chants.

Instead, possession is being given away, defense upon the loss of possession is not intense enough, and counter attacks fail to be stopped. At Sporting's April 27th match against Portland Timbers, my friend Isaac turned to me and remarked: “Our slopping is very passy.” He was hardly misspeaking.

But every championship winning team must go through some tribulations. This week's international break is a perfect opportunity to step back and start something fresh. It was just under 2 months ago that Sporting visited Red Bull Arena and, despite only scoring 1 goal, dominated New York Red Bulls, making the opposition commit stupid fouls out of frustration and desperation.

Another thing Sporting struggled with that was highlighted in a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Impact was the inability to work the ball into Claudio Bieler. When able to find space to shoot, Bieler is lethal, having scored 7 goals on the year, the 4th-most in the league. On June 1, most of his touches were taken in the middle of the field, not in the final third.

Spanish midfielder Oriol Rosell's watered-down impact on games is showing as well. His passes in combination with forwards have not been as successfully chosen or executed. If another linking midfielder like Benny Feilhaber can step up and take the pressure off of Rosell to produce, it will be much easier for Sporting to get the ball into players in the middle of the attacking third.

Another cause for concern in this midfield is the lack of a true defensive midfielder. Last season, Julio Cesar's positioning and composure made it easy for Kansas City to keep the ball and win it back easily. Pair that with Roger Espinoza, and you have the perfect switch between defensive security and offensive liveliness.

But both of those players are gone, and are replaced with more offensive-prone minds. Paulo Nagamura acts as the defensive midfielder, while also coming forward often. Although Nagamura is a good passer and can make tackles, he is not nearly the type of player that Espinoza was. And while Rosell have the offensive mind of Cesar as well as even sharper passing authority, he does not have the same ability to make last-ditch tackles that make a centerback's job easier.

Finally, the most important thing for Sporting's success this year is controlling a game. I cannot count how many times this team has dominated every facet of a soccer game except for the score, and this is without a doubt the most frustrating part of this sport. It’s also the most important.

It seems the only way to take advantage of the edge physically and tactically over opponents for Sporting is to score early. Sporting has only won 2 games in which it did not score in the first half. In the team's other 4 wins, a first half goal opened the game and allowed Sporting to take control.

While every team goes into slumps, Sporting's is made even more difficult with players being absent due to international duty and a schedule that includes 3 competitions. Surely, SKC will come out of this bad form, but the question is when.

Sporting will take on Orlando City SC at Sporting Park on Wednesday in a US Open Cup 4th round match. Orlando is a formidable opponent, the best in the USL PRO, but will be missing their top scorer Dom Dwyer due to an agreement between Sporting and Orlando City regarding USL PRO loanees playing against the club that owns them.

NEXT UP: June 12 – US Open Cup: Sporting Kansas City vs. Orlando City SC, Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kans. 8:30 EST, 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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