It seems like London around here lately. What with the fog and rain and all. So on the recommendation of London native and Sporting Kansas City winger Ryan Smith, I’ve been rocking a little Marsha Ambrosius.
It’s not really like that in London, though, explains Smith. "London is decent, we have decent weather, I don’t know why we’re associated with cold rainy grey, it’s not like that. Some days are like that of course."
And unfortunately, some months are like that if you are Sporting Kansas City, who take their own personal rain cloud wherever they go lately. Depressing, I know.
Let’s try and think of something else for a moment…
Like, does anyone want to collaborate with Ryan Smith on a hip-hop, r&b record? Smith has been writing music and lyrics, producing in an impromptu in-home studio, and hopes to release something soon.
"I have my people back home that I work with and record with and I’ll definitely be releasing music this year officially," says Smith. "I do hip hop, R&B dance music, a lot of dance music. There’s nothing other than hard core rock that I’m not into."
Aside from his music, Smith cameos as the super quick, shifty winger with probably the best touch on SKC, as well as the ability to beat defenders on the dribble.
Over the weekend they fell to the now middle of the pack New England Revolution 3-2. Worst of all, perhaps, is that first time player Aurelian Collin was shown red on a bogus call. Sporting is actually appealing the one game suspension that comes along with it and should know the result in the next day or so. From the replay, it’s clear that Collin went up for a 50/50 corner and collided with New England keeper Matt Reis. Reis won the ball, and both players fell to the ground.
Fair challenge, good play.
But then some New England players jump in and get all in Collin’s face, so Birahim Diop throws a little shove and a New England player goes down like a sack. Ref somehow decides to issue Collin a second yellow and sends him off.
But with three red cards in the last few games you have to start to wonder whether this SKC team is one that can create some of its own luck. To be fair, the refereeing so far this season has been horrendous. It disrupts any possibility of flow, and is so inconsistent that players can’t get comfortable in the game.
LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena recently put it right out there. "It hasn’t been good," he told the Washington Post. "Hopefully it will get better because it’s impacting a lot of games." Thierry Henry has also openly criticized the refs.
Has it affected Sporting KC more than other teams? Not really.
There has been a ton of questionable calls throughout the league this year. I asked Smith, who came up in the Arsenal Club system in London, if he noticed a difference between MLS refs and those in Europe. "Yeah," he said. "There’s some pretty good referees here definitely, and I don’t think I’ve seen a referee that hasn’t been fit enough to participate in a game. Having said that there’s been some very questionable decisions of late."
But it goes both ways. SKC benefitted from a shoddy PK call when Teal Bunbury went down in the box with little contact and nowhere to go, then Kei Kamara converted the spot kick.
"It’s just a part of the game," says Smith. "Once a referee makes a decision he makes a decision. It’s not my job to judge them or criticize their performance." But compared to Europe? "I would say obviously Europe’s at a more advanced stage having been around longer and more experienced referees. So there’s definitely a difference."
The loss drops Sporting to 1-3-1, and some local writers have questioned whether "it’s over."
Not so fast Pat Sajak.
For a guy that has just returned from a knee injury to play his first five minutes of the season in a road loss, Ryan Smith doesn’t lack faith in the chemistry of this team. "I think this year’s team has more characters in terms of – a lot more fun. That may sound strange to hear but last year it was pretty serious," Smith says. "We had our moments where we had fun and stuff but it was a pretty serious group of guys."
So maybe it’s more fun without Jimmy Conrad and Josh Wolff, but there’s also a certain level of familiarity now with Peter Vermes’ high pressing system and philosophy. "I think everybody’s a bit more comfortable," says Smith, "There’s a good blend. This year it is a little more laid back but just as dedicated."
Smith sees the team embodying Vermes’ system more and more.
"Every team should have their own identity and if you have an identity you stick with it. If there needs to be adjustments made to it then fair enough," says Smith.
"So Peter [Vermes] can definitely be forgiven for results of late. We’ll definitely improve, but when you change players every year it becomes a job on your hands in order to try and integrate the starters and newcomers."
But how long can SKC fans forgive?
Remember, SKC has a brutal stretch coming up, running the gauntlet on the road against New York, then LA, Seattle, and Colorado. It’s not for another six plus weeks that they will play in their new KCK home.
Will Smith be match fit by then? According to him, he should be.
"When I did come in [versus New England] I showed a few glimpses of my speed and my dribbling ability so I mean – I want to put this to bed now. My knee’s fine, I just want to start playing games."
And Sporting desperately needs Smith back in the lineup full time. He’s a conifident player that’s dangerous whenever he has the ball at his feet, at his best attacking on the flank, beating a man or two, and sending in an accurate, left footed cross for the sizable front line.
So, what about the "It’s over" talk circling the blogosphere?
"Obviously of late we haven’t been doing fantastically well but I’m telling you right now that we will-" says Smith, stopping just sort of guaranteeing it. "We should definitely, definitely make the playoffs."
I like the confidence and I’ll take the man at his word.
Enter the gauntlet.