Sporting Kansas City took the field with a much different lineup on Saturday against the Eastern Conference leading New York Red Bulls, but the result was, unfortunately, more of the same.
In the first half Sporting got absolutely hammered by crafty New York players Thierry Henry, Dwayne De Rosario, and Luke Rodgers. The Red Bulls held a huge edge in possession and created a handful of really dangerous chances.
Sporting was lucky to see the halftime score at only 1-0, thanks to Jimmy Nielsen’s several spectacular saves, which included a stop on an undeserving PK.
The score could easily have been 3 or 4-0 at half…
Manager Peter Vermes’ shuffled lineup certainly did not impress, especially in the first half.
Center defender Matt Besler was excluded in favor of newcomers Aurelian Collin and Julio Cesar. At left back, tiny Korede Aiyegbusi got his second start ever after regular Roger Espinoza came down with an illness. And in the midfield, Stephane Auvrey and Graham Zusi replaced Birahim Diop (suspension) and Milos Stojcev, who came on as a sub in the 64th minute.
The second half was a bit better, with SKC gaining a good share of the possession and creating a few chances, but again coming away with nothing to show for it.
"I thought in the first half they were having too much of the ball up the middle channel against us," said Vermes. "We made a change in the second half, an adjustment, which I thought clogged the middle at that point, and it wasn’t easy for them to come out anymore. It made it more difficult to mark our guy. In the second half, we were right around the box, we got a couple really good sniffs here or there. But in the end we didn’t have the finish."
I must say I was a bit surpirsed to see Aiyegbusi starting and Matt Besler nowhere to be found. In my book, even if he’s not as capable in the center, why not swing him out on the left side instead? Not a good sign for Matt, who got on Vermes’ bad side and rode the pine a lot last season for his inconsistent play.
The biggest positive from the lineup change was Stephane Auvrey, who seemed to be around the play consistently, and offered a calming presence with the ball at his foot. Though he has logged little game time so far this season, SKC needs Auvrey to win his spot back as a holding midfielder to utilize his nice passing touch and a strong work ethic.
A few things continue to baffle me, though.
First and foremost is Davy Arnaud. That is, Captain Davy Arnaud. Can someone explain to me why the biggest hot head on the team would be named captain? I mean, he complains to the ref and dramatically throws his arms up more than anyone on the team. And his play has been lackluster all season. Though he did seem to be around the ball a bit more than usual on Saturday, he still has had little positive impact on games this season.
This was especially apparent against New York. Pinned in their own half, Sporting’s midfield struggled to deliver any real quality balls to the front line to release some of the pressure and get into the attacking third.
Arnaud also has developed this tendency to take 40 yard shots that sail into the stands.
In my opinion, the three midfield starters should be Ryan Smith, Stephane Auvrey, and Milos Stojcev. Give the captaincy to Omar Bravo (once he’s back) or Kei Kamara. Davy could come off the bench when needed to provide some energy and ball pressure, which is his real strength.
In any event, Sporting KC needs to figure out which players can be depended on. Through six games it feels like little has been learned about who Vermes trusts and who he doesn’t yet. Granted, everything is more difficult on the road, where SKC will remain for another six weeks or so.
"It’s always nice when you can come home," remarked Vermes. "But I would say excluding tonight, the five games we played prior to this, having three red cards in five of those games, that does not make it easy for sure."
Certainly, Sporting could use a little home cookin’. But with the next three games against solid squads – LA, Seattle, and Colorado – let’s just hope that home field will still even matter by June 9th.