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Sporting and Sporting Alone Thoughts for Matchday 3
It's Happening Again!
I have long held that Children’s Mercy Park should freeze itself in time, as a venue perennially frozen in 2012. It was a happier time in American culture — We were coming out of the recession, social media still seemed to have potential for social change and, barring that, was still fun, and Foster The People seemed poised to bring us hits for years to come. I say that I want this out of Children’s Mercy Park because it is, to some extent, still frozen in that era. I walk in and hear “Midnight City,” we still roll out the “Shots” and “I Believe” chants, and Sporting Kansas City plays 90+ minutes of high-speed pressing soccer, looks like a superior team to the opponent, and yet still struggles to score off of any of the opportunities put into the box.
I felt myself transported back to sitting on the couch in the basement of my parents’ house in Overland Park, age 17, junior year of high school, taking a two-hour long ‘homework break’ from French II and Pre-Calculus as Chance Myers, Seth Sinovic, and Graham Zusi placed perfect crosses into the box to be left scuffed and unfinished by our forwards as the fucking Dynamo moved on to the Eastern Conference Finals once again. This time, it was Tim Leibold, Erik Thommy, and… well, Graham Zusi putting the crosses in, and the LA Galaxy on the other side, but otherwise, Saturday brought me vintage Sporting in something of a sad sense. It was another week of ambivalent frustration — I think this midfield is phenomenal, I’m seeing excellent progression from Robert Voloder and John Pulskamp, and still we can’t put it in the net.
Questions and Answers and Questions:
Last week I posed questions for myself and Sporting Kansas City. This week, I’ll struggle to answer them, then ask more for next week.
Q1: Can we start less slow?
Actually, yes! We went for a direct free-kick from Erik Thommy by the second minute, providing the first shot on goal of the match, and then Khiry Shelton had a free header in the box that he put over the bar in the third. Sporting came out on the front-foot and didn’t suffer the early-match defensive issues that plagued the matches in Portland and Colorado.
Q2: Can we score a goal?
Q3: Do we learn anything new about any starters?
We saw two different starters from the Colorado match — Khiry Shelton at Right Forward (in for Marinos Tzionis) and Tim Leibold in for Ben Sweat at left back. Khiry brought us what we normally expect from Khiry: The effort, the placement, the pressure, and the positioning that you want, but an inaccuracy in front of goal that’s unfortunately made him something of a pariah in KC. He’s the only player I heard actively booed by fans around me in the stands on Saturday, and while I’d rather people didn’t (and I’m talking about four or five people, maybe), I get where the frustration comes from. Leibold, on the other hand (and on the other side), looked really good. He’s much more pragmatic than Ben Sweat has been at left back this season, completing 91% of his passes in this match (compared to 81% for Sweat) and neutralized Efrain Alvarez. He also dispossessed Tyler Boyd and went on a long run to set up Marinos Tzionis for a potential chance in the 72’. I like Leibold a lot, and I think Ben Sweat will be an above-average substitute for him late in matches.
Q4: What do we learn from the substitutions made or not made?
Subs on Saturday evening were: 63’ Marinos Tzionis on for Khiry Shelton, 67’ Nemanja Radoja on for Roger Espinoza, and 77’ Ben Sweat on for Tim Leibold.
I suspect that Tzionis is the penciled-in no. 2 behind the currently injured Johnny Russell, but he had his minutes restricted in this match due to his impending call-up with Cyprus for Euro 2024 Qualifying. Neither he nor Shelton were able to score more than once each last year, but Tzionis has more time to grow as an attacking player and I hope he takes charge of his role as the season progresses. I can’t say that one was all that much better than the other, though Khiry had probably the best chance at a goal of the two of them with his missed header in the third minute.
I have far too much of my mental health riding on the success of Nemanja Radoja at the 6 this season. If everything I’ve heard about him is true, he should be exactly what we were missing without Ilie at that position last season. He immediately took control of the match, progressing the ball and leading the attack, which surprised me a little bit. It was a small sample size, but the Radoja/Walter/Thommy midfield looked excellent in this match, and I hope we see it from the start in Dallas this weekend.
New Questions for the Upcoming Weekend:
Q1: Can we score a goal?
Self-explanatory. My thought is that it’ll come from an abnormal, unexpected source, like Tim Leibold, Robert Voloder, or the mysterious “Own Goal”. Speaking of whom
Q2: Can the center-backs continue their recent success on the road against a prolific attack?
I have not given enough praise to Fontas and Voloder, who have played the full 90’ of the first three matches and only given up one goal in that time. The Galaxy, with Riqui Puig, Efrain Alvarez, and Dejan Jovelic, looked like they could be a highly-effective attacking team before the season began, but they couldn’t get much going against Fontas and Voloder. Dallas has been much more productive than the Galaxy in attack, scoring 4 in their last two matches, and they’ve had a diverse set of producers: Three goalscorers: Jesus Ferreira, Alan Velasco, and Sebastien Ibeagha, plus five credited assisters: Velasco, Paul Arriola, Nkosi Tafari, Ema Twumasi, and Paxton Pomykal. This will be a huge challenge for these center backs, and if they can hold this team to fewer than two goals, I’ll be very optimistic about the defensive potential this season.
Q3: How much of the Radoja/Walter/Thommy midfield combo will we get?
I need to come up with a nickname for these three. RWT? WRT? WaRaTh? Maybe combine their numbers, like 6-54-26? That’s five digits, could be a ZIP Code. 65426 doesn’t match anywhere. 54626 is Eastman, Wisconsin, 26546 is Pursglove, West Virginia… 6+54+26 combined is 86… 86 in restaurant terminology means to remove or eliminate something? Maybe that works: Nemanja Radoja, Remi Walter, and Erik Thommy are The Eliminator Midfield.
I hope we get to see The Eliminator Midfield start in Dallas next week.
Q4: Will Graham Zusi get some rest?
Zusi’s been quite good to start the year, but he’s played the full 90’ in all three of the matches. I’m not so worried about him getting burnt out, because his presumptive backup in Kayden Pierre played well in spurts last season, and Ben Sweat can play both fullback roles as well, so I’m really just more interested in seeing who comes for him, as a 36 year-old player that isn’t Kyle Beckerman just will likely not be able to play 90 minutes every match for a full season, so it’ll be good to see who Vermes intends to be the replacement when necessary.
I have no idea what to expect this weekend. I’m hoping for a 3-2 thriller or something like that, even a 3-3 draw with some goals scored will be enough for me. I might even take a loss with a goal scored at this point. I might take a great shot with a phenomenal save at this point. Please, Sporting, give us something of an answer this weekend! Heartbreak or euphoria, I don’t care!