Donnelly: Why Won’t Vermes Stay Aggressive Late? SKC Crushed (Again) in Last Second

Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes

Well, it happened again…

Despite dominating 3/4ths of the game and leading FC Dallas 2-0 late in the second half, Sporting Kansas City found a way to give up last second goals and hand over three crucial points that were already penciled in under the win column.

And damn it was an exciting game, back and forth action all night.

Dallas scored twice in the final few moments to win 3-2. At the final whistle, a large contingent of the 20,000 plus in attendance at LIVESTRONG rained boos down on the home team. For the previous 90 minutes, though, the atmosphere was the best of the year inside the best stadium in MLS.

However KC has a serious problem this season with their lack of ability to close out games. Remember the Seattle game, Sporting’s first loss at LIVESTRONG, where stoppage time goals ripped away the game?

A similar thing happened in Portland, though that game ended 3-3.

After the game, Sporting midfielder Roger Espinoza offered little to explain the letdown…


"I don’t know what happened from there, we lost concentration," he said.  "It’s frustrating this is about the fourth time this has happened this season, we either have to settle for a point, or we lose. This is the second time at home."

At this point it’s no longer merely a string of bad luck, an anomaly, or whatever you want to call it.  No, SKC’s problem lies in their tactics late in these close games, and Vermes needs to make sure everyone is on the same page going forward if this team wants to make some noise in the playoffs. 

First things first.

I understand the concept of "killing a game" when a team is leading late.  You know, stepping on the ball, not really trying to attack much, slowly walking up to throw ins, and making the ref scold you on goal kicks – wasting time

KC was doing all that, but there’s a time and a place.Omar Bravo vs FC Dallas

Saturday night, leading 2 goals to none, KC started in with the slow-down in damn near the 75th minute.  They still had 20 minutes to play!

In the 80th minute, with the score now at 2-1 in KC’s favor, Kei Kamara had a half breakaway chance up the right flank.  He had a streaking teammate on the far side and only one man to beat to get in on the keeper.  But instead of attacking, or making any aggressive move for that matter, the veteran striker dribbled to the corner flag and attempted to shield the Dallas defenders.

Kamara was dispossessed in a matter of seconds.

Then, six minutes later, rookie CJ Sapong did essentially the same move, with the same result. 

What happens in the last ten minutes to the aggressive, attacking play that Vermes demands for the first 80?  Why not stick with what got you there in the first place? 

If a player is dribbling to the corner up one goal in the 80th minute, surely that move has to be sanctioned by the coach, right?  It has to be.  If not, there’s no way Kamara and Sapong do that. 

Aurelien Collin vs FC DallasThinking he’s doing the right thing to seal the deal, Vermes is actually making his team tentative at the end of games.  For instance, just after Dallas scored to put the score at 2-1, Vermes subbed out Omar Bravo – not for another attacker or midfielder – but for Aurelien Collin, a defender who hasn’t played in about a month.

First off, why go to five defenders at that point?  It’s not an aggressive play.  And besides, if you’re going to take off a forward, why not sub Teal Bunbury, who already had a yellow card?  Hindsight is 20/20 I know, but Teal had a marginal game, missed a routine goal, and got shown a second yellow card making SKC play the end of the game with only ten men.  

Next, Vermes inserted Michael Harrington (another defender) for the club MVP Graham Zusi. Dallas scored the winning goal a few moments later. 

And, oh yeah, Harrington proceeded to miss an open net on a header that would’ve tied the game in the last second. 

By becoming too tentative, Sporting has squandered at least 7 points this season.  Minimum

Now consider the fact that KC is just 4 points behind Eastern Conference leaders Columbus, but only five points ahead of 6th place DC United

And the fact that the top three in the East and West all get automatic playoff bids, with the rest being allocated at large by highest point totals. 

And the fact that if they were in the West, KC would currently be in 6th place, on the outside of the playoffs looking in. 

So you can see why losing these games that should have been put to bed is so crushing, especially right now.
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6 Responses to Donnelly: Why Won’t Vermes Stay Aggressive Late? SKC Crushed (Again) in Last Second

  1. George Wilson says:

    Strongly Disagree
    You’re complaining that we get too defensive down the stretch? Really? In the Seattle game in the last minute of regulation time and effectively down two men, instead of taking the ball to the corner Bunbury chose to drive at the defender and launch a 25 yard shot. That not only gave the ball back to Seattle but allowed their keeper a goal kick to get the ball upfield quickly. Teal took a lot of heat for doing so.

    In the Dallas game were were down a man for the last 20 minutes. Other than maybe Barcelona, I don’t know of a team in the world that doesn’t make defensive substitutions and try to nurse a lead like that to the finish line. And in the Vancouver game, we gave up two goals in extra time specifically because we were being aggressive. Vancouver’s goals were directly related to our fullbacks being caught up field over and over. In fact, after that horrid start to the season, our turnaround coincided with Vermes’ decision to to slow down the fullbacks’ charges up field.

    Honestly, I have rarely heard a commentator suggesting that a team down a man with the lead shouldn’t make defensive substitutions or should not try to kill off the game. I will say that I thought they started going to the corner too early against Dallas, but the rest of your comments I strongly disagree with.

    Sporting has given up more goals in the last 15 minutes of games than at any other time, including seven after the 88th minute. That can’t be ignored. Our style of pressing high up the pitch is one of the most exhausting styles to play. And we have been at home for almost all of July and August, where the summer has been one of the hottest I can remember. Compound that with Vermes’ propensity to play the same eleven guys if they are available almost every game, and you have an obvious recipe for late game breakdowns. I think that has a lot more to do with our late game collapses than using a widely accepted strategy of bringing on defensively minded players late in games when we are down a man with a lead.

  2. George Wilson says:

    Forgot to Mention
    Two of our three melt downs have come down a man. I believe we have seen more red cards than any other team in the league. A few games back Espinoza got sent off for a bad tackle in retaliation for something an opponent did. Saturday Bunbury got send off for two unnecessary tackles that I believe were both occurred midfield. Who gets a striker sent off for a tackle at midfield when you have a lead? The team needs more discipline, and that stems from coaching. As does the lack of squad rotation.

  3. Markus Aurelius says:

    I was there and you’re right the atmosphere was phenomenal
    at least as good as we have at a Chief’s game and way better than any Royals game in recent history.

    Vermes biggest mistake was taking Bravo out instead of Bunbury when Collin came in. Granted the 2nd yellow for Bunbury looked unwarranted from our side of the pitch but Vermes never should have put us in a position to end up a man down. Bunbury should have come out instead of Bravo.

    I was absolutely furious when Kamara took the ball to the corner instead of attacking the goal. Unless you’re in stoppage time, there is no reason to do that.

    Vermes needs to figure out how to rotate guys in and out so that the on field play remains consistent and guys are comfortable with each other out there. Nielsen was visibly frustrated after both of the last minute scores as it appeared that our guys on defense were not in sync with him on both of those goals. That falls in part on Vermes, who is tasked with making sure that his goalkeeper and defenders are all on the same page.

    Let’s also not forget that the refs were absolutely brutal on Sat night. That being said, Vermes exacerbated bad officiating with his poor coaching.

    What had been an amazing evening quickly went to a complete downer. We never, never, never should have lost that match.

  4. Matt says:

    Always change a losing strategy…
    George, some good points. Yeah, that card was bogus, but it was actually called by the linesman for what he thought was an intentional trip. Bad call. And I agree that Vermes

  5. George Wilson says:

    You mention that SKC isn’t very good at killing off games. Fair enough. But, given what Bunbury did and given what happened at Vancouver, I’d suggest we are not very good when we try to stay aggressive at the end of games we are leading. Down a man and nursing a lead, I don’t see where staying aggressive makes much sense, especially when it appears we have lost our legs. From what I’ve seen in international soccer, I’d say 99% of the coaches agree with that. We got killed doing it at Vancouver and again when Bunbury took that shot against Seattle.

    I agree we went to the corner too often and too early against Dallas. But for the last ten minutes we could hardly get back on defense even though we were not sending many players forward. We were out on our feet. Shea had acres of room to make both of the crosses that lead to scores at the end of the game. Dallas had played half a game on Wednesday and then a full game on Thursday, and yet they were the fresher team down the stretch on Saturday. That shouldn’t happen, but it did.

    Vermes’ late game strategy is the vastly preferred strategy in international soccer, especially when down a man and with tired legs. It isn’t his late game strategy that is a problem, it’s what leads up to the late game collapses that is. You cannot play game after game in 90 degree heat without frequent squad rotation and demand that your team press for 90 minutes, including even when down a man. Questionable red card or not, that team needs more discipline and more fitness down the stretch. If we had those two things going for us, no one would be talking about how we can’t kill games off.

  6. Markus Aurelius says:

    a better and more regular squad rotation would help make
    sure that our best 11 are on the field to close out the game. Vermes needs to approach the use of players in the same way that Mike Anderson did with his Missouri teams. Both coaches sought to play up tempo, high energy, attacking styles of play that require more stamina than a more traditional approach to their respective game. Anderson understood that he needed a deep bench in order to be effective with this style of play. Vermes needs to rotate guys in and out more often and earlier in the match to keep legs fresh for the final 20 minutes. That being said, if he does this and we end up down 0-1 or 0-2 at halftime everyone will be complaining about him not keeping his best 11 on the pitch at all times.

    The late game breakdowns have happened enough now to warrant a change in approach – either in how he coaches the guys or how he asks them to execute down the stretch. Let’s hope Sat night was the straw that forced the camel’s coach to put a back brace on the camel before it was too late.

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