Some blame the heat. Others, the fact that it’s just a friendly match.
But damn. That was one of the dullest, least entertaining games I’ve witnessed in quite some time.
Over the course of 90 minutes, Sporting Kansas City and Newcastle United of the English Premier League managed to tally 25 combined shots – but only three of those were on target. And there wasn’t a single shot on target in the first half by either team. The game ended in a 0-0 tie.
After the game, the players and coaches acknowledged the lackluster showing, with most blaming the sweltering heat and humidity for the result.
“I’m sure 95 percent of our lads might never have played in heat like this before,” commented Newcastle defender Ryan Taylor. “It’s just not football weather being close to 100 degrees. No matter how fit you are, it’s something you can’t adapt to, it’s obviously really different where we play, where it rains a lot.”
“Sometimes you have to take into consideration that MLS is different because you play through the summer months,” said KC coach Peter Vermes. “The heat becomes such a major factor in the game, and both teams have to deal with it no matter what.”
“It was a pretty easy game,” said KC keeper Eric Kronberg. “I probably had one or two easy saves, but that was about it. I anticipated it more, but I had confidence in our defense too, we’ve been playing really well.”
With no truly big international stars on Newcastle’s roster, combined with the sluggish play, the real highlights of the night were witnessing the debuts of several of SKC’s new acquisitions.
First and foremost was Jeferson (yep, just one name), the Brazilian attacking midfielder who was just signed as Sporting’s third ever designated player. And get this – he had offers from at least four other teams throughout Europe and South America but chose Sporting due at least in part to…. the new stadium.
Jeferson started the game and made an immediate impact, which was impressive especially since he has been with the team for just a handful of days.
He repeatedly checked to defenders demanding the ball at his feet- which his new teammates provided- and his dribbling ability looked tops on the team. He cracked a few long range shots with his powerful left foot that missed the target. And he attempted to thread several through balls straight up the middle, only to find his anticipated target making a different run, but communication issues like that are to be expected with a brand new player. After the game, Jeferson seemed pleased enough with his debut.
“For me it was a good start,” said Jeferson through an interpreter. “I just wish I could have scored one of those chances, but I was mobile, I got the ball where I wanted to get it and I played my game which is trying to set up my teammates. It’s just going to get better from now on.”
Also making his debut was Soony Saad, the 19 year old who played last season collegiately at the University of Michigan. He provided some quickness and energy off the bench, and looked eager to mix it up in his first pro game.
“For me it was good to get in,” said Saad. “Anytime you make a debut it’s very important and I feel privileged that the coach was able to let this be my debut, against a great team like Newcastle United. I want to thank the coach for that.”
Another player that SKC has been eyeing for quite some time, Daniel Cyrus, recently joined the squad and came off the bench in the second half to pair with Matt Besler at center back. He is a tall, athletic, 20 year old from Trinidad & Tobago, and he looked fairly comfortable on the ball for a big guy.
So aside from seeing some of the new guys get a little time, I guess the other highlight of the night came in the form of the added international exposure games like this gives LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. Though some have doubted the impact that the stadium alone would have on SKC’s ability to draw top talent and book international games, it is clear now that those doubters were wrong.
After the game, Newcastle coach Alan Pardew gushed, “The stadium is absolutely top-drawer. Coming from our league, I can attest that this would easily be in the top amongst stadiums in our league.”
Among the top in the EPL!? I’d say that’s pretty good validation for Robb Heineman and Co.