Donnelly: Sporting Offense Sputters @ Home but Defense Best in MLS

Sporting Kansas City moved into second place in the Eastern Conference this weekend with a lackluster 0-0 draw at home against the lowly New England Revolution

The one positive to take from this game:  Sporting’s defense.

Jimmy Nielsen and the back four again came up huge, and are allowing the fewest goals in the league, with a .90 goals against average.

“We’ve been pretty strong in that area for some time now,” Nielsen said.  “In the second half we were completely dominating the game. We were well organized and pretty much did all the right things as the game went on.”

Plus Jimmy made a world-class save early on in the first half that kept the visitors off the board.  New England striker Ryan Guy got on the end of a long corner, launching into a diving header that looked like it was heading for the back of the net.  But Nielsen reacted, dove high to his right, and got a paw on the effort, sending it over the end line and keeping his clean sheet intact.

The White Puma continues to justify his selection to the all star team, and I’m hoping he gets the start this Wednesday against Chelsea, or at least gets a full half to show how he stacks up against some of the best in the world, like Frank Lampard, Fernando Torres, and Daniel Sturridge.

So yeah … that’s pretty much the extent of the positives.

The negatives?  Basically the same things that have been plaguing SKC all season.  First and foremost is the squad’s inability to produce any offense on the ground, down the center of the field.  I’ve railed frequently about the fact that almost all KC’s chances are generated by taking the ball down to the corner and crossing the ball into the box in the air.

This method has become far too predictable.  Sporting now is one of only two MLS squads that have not scored a goal THE ENTIRE SEASON from outside the penalty area.  (They have scored a few from outside the box in Open Cup play).  And they haven’t scored a goal at home in MLS play since June 16th!

Teams now just bunker the middle and settle for the lesser evil, allowing KC with space out wide and denying anything in front of the goal.  Why wouldn’t they?  It doesn’t seem like KC is going to change up its strategy anytime soon.

“I think we had 29 crosses during the game, but we have to connect on the end of those,” said KC coach Peter Vermes after the game.  “There were too many balls that went in front of the goal and also past the goal and almost out the other side for a throw in and that means that we’re not getting enough guys in the box.”

Rather than pump more and more balls into the box, and send more and more players into the box to hopefully get a head on one of them, Vermes needs to stress playing the ball through Graham Zusi more, let him hold it a bit,  and build through the midfield.

Luckily, prior to their next MLS match, SKC has a chance to get things right – and hopefully put a few in the back of the net – against French League Champions Montpellier.  They’re not as sexy a draw as, say, an EPL club, but these guys are the real deal, just coming off winning the French first division.

The game kicks off at 7:30 on Tuesday July 24th at LIVESTRONG, and I’m told there are still a few tickets available.
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