Sporting Kansas City fans left Tuesday night’s win against the Tulsa Athletic with a new name on their lips: Ethan Bryant. The shaggy-haired 21-year-old playing for Sporting KC’s second team put on a great display in the midfield after coming on for Gadi Kinda in the 30th minute. He even garnered the respect of first-team manager Peter Vermes. When asked who played well in the match, Vermes answered “Ethan [Bryant], from the midfield, I think he was probably our best player on the night.” That’s high praise from a manager not easily impressed. Maybe Vermes saw what we all saw last night; that second-teamer Ethan Bryant is emblematic of everything the first team isn’t.
When Bryant took the field Tuesday night, he changed the tempo of the game. His constant movement in the midfield and progressive play were just what the first team needed, even against a lower-tier side like Tulsa. Bryant brought the energetic pressing and fast transition play from the second team, which has 10 goals, the fifth most in MLS Next Pro. Many might scoff at the idea that Bryant’s play with the second team would translate, yet in watching the first team, energy, movement, ball progression and fast transition play are everything they lack. Bryant brought all those skills to Tuesday night’s game. Just look at one of Bryant’s first movements without the ball when he checked into the game.
Sporting KC are attempting to break down Tulsa’s low block and Bryant does a great job of moving out of the low block forcing a defender to follow him and open space for another player to run into. When no one runs into that space, Bryant makes a run and immediately sees Pulido and Salloi following the ball as Voloder is attempting to cross.
Bryant sees this and just checks into the open space where Voloder might cross too. Jake Davis gets a shot off, but Bryant was in a great position to score if the ball fell to him. How many times have seen the first team midfielders stand at top of the box to shoot and not make runs into available space?
Bryant’s youthful energy and forward-playing disposition also forced other players to play forward, eventually leading to Alan Pulido’s goal. Look at both Salloi and Fountas, who point for Bryant to play the ball backwards while he’s on the wing.
Bryant sees the space Daniel Salloi is in and elects not to play it back, instead playing a disguised pass into Salloi, forcing him to turn and make a play that results in Pulido’s goal. This forcefulness in the attacking half is what Sporting KC has been missing all season. In the past nine games this ball would have been played backwards and Sporting would have missed a chance to threaten the goalkeeper.
On another play, Bryant played a beautiful through ball to Salloi in the box and then moves into the space to receive it back and get a shot off. With a better first touch, he might have scored.
Last, Bryant showed off his ball progression skill with a beautiful turn and skip past a defender to play Salloi into space.
Notice how Bryant’s first thought is not to play sideways or back, it’s forward. That was the theme of his entire game Tuesday night. He is constantly moving and progressing the game forward. More than that, he does so with few touches which will help him transition to the much faster and more physical MLS style.
Yes, this was a game against a fourth-tier soccer side of semi-professionals. But it is also true that without a goalkeeping mistake in the first half, Sporting KC might have gone into the half goalless against said semi-pros. What Ethan Bryant brought to the game was a willingness to push forward and try. His injection into this match was a breath of fresh air from the passiveness and sloppy play which has had a choke hold on fans and the first team all year. This shaggy-haired midfielder who has been playing professionally since he was 16, brought excitement to this Sporting KC team whose season outlook is very bleak right now. Tuesday night he was first— first to drive ball forward, first to pass forward, and first to move forward. Bryant has shown he is anything but second. If Peter Vermes really wants to stoke competition into the side as he says, Bryant should be playing with the first team in the very near future.