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Sporting KC & Broader MLS Thoughts for Matchweek 2
MImP, MBP, MInP, JdVP, and the San Jose Shirtless Progression
Boy is that a bizarre shot chart we got on Saturday evening in Commerce City. Eleven shots on goal, six shots blocked, all but one of which came on the left side, none of which were off frame. Not even the odd post or crossbar deflection. 11 shots on goal, none converted, and yet, merely .6 total xG. This is two games now to start the year with nary a goal converted, despite a few decent chances which were parried away in a quite good performance by William Yarbrough, who always seems to have atypically good games against Sporting KC. A game disappointing in some senses (i.e. no goals scored, Andreu Fontas was outrun by Colorado’s Darren Yapi something like four times in the first fifteen minutes), not all that disappointing in others (i.e. several good saves by John Pulskamp, a point earned, and a better sense of what’s going on with the left side of the pitch), and to many commenters, apparently very boring, though I didn’t find it to be that way.
What did we learn from this match?
The Key Guys Are Starting to Take Shape, Also I Should Determine Who I Predict the Key Guys Will Be
I’m going to develop it as my mission this year to determine four players for Sporting Kansas City: MImP (Most Important Player), MBP (Most Best Player), MInP (Most Interesting Player), JdVP (Joie de Vivre Player). I started this whole deal rather haphazardly, so I never put down in words what determined these players, nor whom I predict will take these roles. I will do so in the following paragraphs:
MImP (Most Important Player):
At the beginning of every season, since about 2016, I’ve tried to determine, typically just to myself, who I consider to be the most important player for the success of Sporting Kansas City. Off the top of my head, these have been:
2016: Graham Zusi
2017: Dom Dwyer
2018: Ike Opara
2019: Krisztian Nemeth
2020: Alan Pulido
2021: Alan Pulido
2022: Daniel Salloi
I had justifications at the time, and I’ve forgotten many of them. I was very wrong on many of them. I am writing it down right now so that I can laugh at myself in specific in the future. The MImP is the guy upon whose shoulders the team’s success is determined — The team’s success hinges on his success. When I had this thought a few weeks ago, I figured it’d be Remi Walter. I still figure, to some extent, that it will be Remi Walter. His ball-progressing capability and the tenacity with which he fights to win balls near midfield will be pivotal to getting this team the opportunities to attack with pace that may prove necessary for goals to be scored this year, especially given the team’s woes in the box against set defenses in the first two matches. The one caveat here is that Remi won’t be doing so much progression unless Nemanja Radoja is playing, which I suppose could make Nemanja Radoja the pre-season (or, at least, the 2-weeks-into-the-season) MImP in absentia.
MBP (Most Best Player):
The Most Best Player will be the Most… Best… Player on Sporting KC. The guy who is the best at soccer on the team. This can overlap with the MImP, but does not necessarily. Last year, though we only got a half season from him, I would have called Willy Agada the MBP. Two weeks ago, I thought the MBP would be Erik Thommy (I put him in my league Best XI, for god’s sakes), and I still believe as much based off of these first two weeks. Thommy’s been the most legitimate goal-scoring threat, forcing a few of Yarbrough’s toughest saves in this match, as well as being tied for the highest expected assist rating of the match with Graham Zusi.
MInP (Most Interesting Player):
This is the guy who I’m spending the most time trying to figure out. I typed a lot of text out about Khiry Shelton last week, and I am still intrigued by him despite his minor role in this most recent match. I feel that bringing him in late in matches to press in the attacking third and prompt turnovers is his best role, especially on the right wing, where he came on to replace Marinos Tzionis. The MInP will not be fully understood for a good few weeks, but my early candidates are: Khiry, Kayden Pierre, this new Colombian Center Back we have coming in, Cam Duke, and John Pulskamp.
JdVP (Joie de Vivre Player):
The JdVP will be the guy who brings that little bit of extra something to the season. He’s impossible to describe in words, we can only grasp at truly understanding him, and even then only in comparison to others. JdVPs of years past have been guys like Gerso Fernandes, Latif Blessing, Jimmy Medranda, Kevin Ellis, and Aurelien Collin, among others. My suspicion, based on the number of times I’ve been left feeling puzzled but mostly satisfied by instances involving him, is that this year’s JdVP of the year will be Ben Sweat. My eyes are locked on him whenever he’s on screen, for better and worse.
It is Clear Where Goal Scoring Will Come From…
But I don’t know how it’s going to occur. There were many shots taken, five by Erik Thommy and six by Daniel Salloi, and many saves forced, but the bulk of them were routine for Yarbrough. Agada’s not getting many chances and it’s clearly frustrating him, though he had another instance in the 38th minute wherein he was about a step behind a cross that would’ve been a goal had he been able to get a touch on it. If I had to guess right now, I’m thinking that the first goal of 2023 for Sporting Kansas City will be scored by… how about Graham Zusi? He’s been quite good in these first two matches. Guessing it’s a deflection off of a corner and he beats Raheem Edwards to the rebound at the top of the box, which he hits in stride into the top-right corner.
John Pulskamp is Probably the Guy
Yeah he (and the VAR) kept this a 0-0 instead of a 2 or 3-nil. At the end of the match, I was left feeling that I’d seen a good goalkeeping performance on both sides, which was enough, at the time, to make me feel like it wasn’t that bad of a match. In retrospect, nobody outside of Yapi early on was really goal dangerous.
The Rapids Enigma
I have no idea what to think about the Colorado Rapids at this stage. The Rapids are in the running for the MInT (Most Interesting Team) role, along with their mountain time partners in Salt Lake, their mountain-logo partners in Vancouver, their 2010 MLS Cup Final locale providers in Toronto, and their… I cannot connect The Rapids to Inter Miami. But there are a lot of teams in this league which I see something like a twenty-spot range from highest possible finish to lowest possible finish, and The Rapids are both one of those teams and the one whose success will feel the hardest to describe if they reach it. It’ll be similar to the grit/xDAWG language that’s used for Salt Lake, but we’ll have to start using words like ‘The Unknowable’ and ‘Avant-Garde’ for them, or at least for Michael Barrios. Cole Bassett is back, but he looked out of sorts for much of the match. Lalas Abubakar looked far more effective this week than he did in the prior week. Kevin Cabral didn’t look that much different from how he looked with the Galaxy in a limited appearance off the bench. They don’t feel like a cohesive unit at this point, though, moreso a collection of players capable of highly variable performances.
Questions I Hope I Have Answers To Next Week
Can we start less slow? This is two weeks now in which the defense has given up great chances on goal within the first fifteen minutes and then looked in something resembling control for the remainder of the match. Can we start looking good from the beginning of the match?
Can we score a goal? Self-explanatory
Do we learn anything new about any starters? Particularly if we see Radoja or Pulido start for the first time this coming weekend, and to a lesser extent I’m curious if we get Shelton or Tzionis at right forward
What do we learn from the substitutions made or not made? The most interesting sub situation over the first two weeks has been at right back. Graham Zusi’s played well in that role, but I expected to see Kayden Pierre come in for him at some point in the last two matches, given that Pierre performed fairly well in that role near the end of last season and that Graham’s a veteran.
On MLS More Broadly —
Introducing The Mountain Range
There was a period of time, specifically from about 10:20 to 10:35pm CST on Saturday, at which every one of the matches that kicked off at 7:30pm CST had finished, and the matches that kicked off at 7:30PM PST were at half, in which the only match in progress, thus central on the MLS 360 feed, was the SKC/Rapids match. It hit me then that this would be a recurring phenomenon this season — Due to the schedule prioritizing matches starting at 7:30 PM locally, there will be about a fifteen minute period each weekend in which the only match at play will be in one of the two Mountain Time metros — Either Salt Lake or Colorado. I am deeming this “The Mountain Range.” These two teams, both of whom play a unique brand of soccer without an abundance of marquee star players, who both tend to get relegated to the margins of the discussion around MLS, will be forced in front of the eyes of anyone watching the MLS 360 feed. I predict that The Mountain Range will provide something odd to the viewer.
The PayPal Park Shirtless Ultra Progression
I called San Jose and Vancouver my “Artisan’s Choice” game of the weekend, and it delivered. Vancouver went up early on. Vancouver could have gone up by more early on. Vancouver did not go further up with the chances they had. San Jose came back screaming in the second half and ended up winning with two fantastic team goals: Jamiro Monteiro with a gorgeous cross to Jeremy Ebobisse for a header in the 68th, and an amazing cross-field ground-pass sequence between Jackson Yueill, Ebobisse, Cristian Espinoza, and finally Carlos Akapo in the 77th.
Now, what really struck me about this match was San Jose’s Ultras stand. Take a look at this shot of the crowd in the first half preceding Alessandro Schöpf’s goal for the ‘Caps.
The SJ Ultras wear black, traditionally, and there’s a lot of black shirt coverage here in the 17th minute. Fast forward to the second half when we get a pretty substantial wide-shot of the Ultras (I’m only going off of what’s made available via YouTube highlights here):
Still primarily black… But then, we fast forward to the 77th
LOTS of torso there. It was a more visible progression on the full broadcast, but after Ebobisse’s goal, there was a sort of wave of disrobing that passed through the Ultras stand, to the point where it was maybe a 30/70 split between shirted and unshirted by the end of the match. I don’t know their ethos out there… But maybe this becomes (and maybe this already is) a trend. When the shirts get removed, the Quakes get going.
To the Quakes themselves: Let this become a motivator. When things get rough, when you’re down a goal and lacking the juice to drive you forward, look up in the stands. As the dots of torso flesh become patches of torso flesh against the canvas of black cotton/polyester blend, let yourselves understand the sight as something of a beacon to lock in and take charge of the game. Goonies never say die.