Sporting Finally Collects 3 Important Points

SKC won for the 1st time since May 12 on Saturday
by Skylar Rolstad   |   Monday, July 01, 2013

State of SKC - column on Sporting KC (SKC) & the Kansas City soccer scene.
Over the last 3 years, Kansas City has experienced an unwavering amount of support for Sporting KC, and on Saturday at Sporting Park that inevitably continued as Sporting Park saw its 25th straight sellout.

The team this stadium filled to see, however, could be described only with unwavering disappointment, rather than glory, as of late.

But finally, that disappointment would subside, and by the time the final whistle was blown, it didn't look like it would weigh down on this team's shoulders anymore as SKC walked away with a 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew.

It was Sporting's 1st win since May 12. And while SKC’s performance on this night wasn't even close to perfect, it was just the confidence boost Sporting needed headed into the 2nd half of the season.

The early tone was set by Kansas City with a few excellent shots on goal. In the 10th minute, a through ball from Seth Sinovic off of a short corner found Soony Saad, who fired the ball toward the back post and prompted an intelligent save from Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum.

Shortly after, Lawrence Olum sent an identical pass down the right wing that Claudio Bieler settled and tried his luck at finding the back post. His shot was sent wide but was enough to send Gruenebaum diving to his back post. Kansas City would find several half-chances like these throughout 90 minutes.

Sporting found a way to take the initiative to win this time, scoring the first goal of the game in the 34th minute. Soony Saad turned his phenomenal 33 previous minutes into something tangible, his perfectly weighted pass led Kei Kamara in on goal. It took an incredible touch from Kamara to settle the ball and even less effort to knock it past Gruenebaum and into the goal for KC's 1-0 lead.

Of all the statements made on Saturday night, Saad's was the most emphatic. The Lebanese international was signed by Sporting KC through a lottery draft in 2011 and looked like a promising young player in that season. His next season would be a little less successful, but Saad's impact in the minutes he has played this season has made him a solid candidate to be starting if another team were to come calling for Kamara's services in this summer's transfer window.

Saad has appeared in 7 MLS games this season, and has made a vital impact in most of them, especially on Bieler's goal on April 5th against DC United and Saturday's assist on Kamara's 1st goal and his game-winning assist.

Throughout the evening, SKC's triangles on the sides of the field made it easy for the team to move the ball around, especially with Graham Zusi playing in behind Bieler, enabled with the freedom to move to either side of the field and be the linking midfielder with the players in the attacking third.

In most Sporting KC games, the difficulty is that the attacking third and the midfielder are completely cut off from each other. Zusi and Soony Saad's presence bridged that gap and made Sporting much more efficient. It seemed that SKC manager Peter Vermes changed the formation slightly, urging Olum and Oriol Rosell to stay back as true defensive midfielders, pushing Bieler up as a lone center forward, and keeping Kamara and Saad back. The formation had looked more like a 4-2-3-1 than the usual 4-3-3.

Columbus would equalize through Jairo Arrieta, but Sporting would answer with some more combination play down the right side, a cross in from Chance Myers that failed to be cleared by Crew defenders, and a spectacular half-volley the rocketed off of Bieler's foot and into the back of Gruenebaum's net.

Although Sporting came away with 3 points on this night, the team's defense was a cause for concern. What was previously a non-issue for SKC turned into one that almost cost them the game on Saturday.

Conversely, the offensive struggles were smoothed over during this game and Sporting's ability to keep the ball and direct it toward scoring was incredible. It has become a custom for this team to be solid over stretches of a game and have lapses that cost them heavily.

The 3-2 loss to Portland Timbers was the classic example of this tendency. The first costly and inexcusable mistake was made by Matt Besler on Jairo Arrieta's goal to equalize. The second was the most absolute of a lapse in concentration on the part of another player that one would never guess would make such an error. Sinovic's pass back to goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen should have been an easy knock back to the goalkeeper to boot away, instead Sinovic hit the much too soft and Oduro intercepted and tapped into an empty net.

This game against the Crew was won by Sporting because of their ability to get forward and put the ball into places where it could be finished often. In the 80th minute, the ball was headed away from the 18-yard box by Crew central defender Chad Marshall. Bieler then sent the ball back to Kamara who had Gruenebaum all but beaten once again. Kamara scored his 2nd goal of the game and gave his team the 3 points Sporting had longed for for more than a month.

Sporting's win on Saturday was a flashback to the Sporting of last year, the team that could move the ball around the midfield and seamlessly go for goal, as if flipping a switch.

Yet in another sense, it was something completely different from anything from the past. Vermes' substitutions brought a completely different element to the game and Sporting's combination on the wings relied much less on the presence of an attacking fullback. This win is certainly not as good as it gets this year, but has shown that something finally worked for SKC.

Sporting will stay at home for its next game on Wednesday when it takes on Vancouver Whitecaps and their red-hot forward Camilo Sanvezzo, who is second in the MLS Golden Boot race with 9 goals on the year.

The last time Sporting played Vancouver was a 3-1 win for KC at BC Place in 2012, and the last time SKC played the Whitecaps at Sporting Park was a 2-1 come-from-behind win in 2011.

NEXT UP: July 3 – Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kans. 9 p.m. EST, Univision.

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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