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Breakdown of the Match: Sporting Kansas City v LAG



Thad Bell Photography

Welcome to Kansas City Soccer Journal’s Breakdown of the Match (BOM). After each Sporting Kansas City or Kansas City Current match, yours truly will breakdown a significant, unique, and/or interesting moment that happened in the 90+ minutes. A missed opportunity. A tactical matter. Some anomaly. An example of the principles of the game. The impact of a player’s subtle or dramatic movement. Or something completely different.

There are no prejudices when it comes to the beautiful game or this series, except that it will always be at least bent towards Sporting Kansas City or the Kansas City Current. So please be on the lookout for the BOM every week (sometimes twice?) and feel free to suggest what the breakdown should be by reaching out at @spkclife on X (formerly Twitter).

This week’s Breakdown will come from Sporting KC’s 3-2 home loss versus Los Angeles Galaxy last Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park. The following were the candidates (Match clock times are approximate):

15:27 – Erik Thommy’s pass to space after Willy Agada and Alan Pulido converged in the same space.

36:57 – Tim Leibold’s 60+yard solo attack

74:23 – Los Angeles Galaxy’s 2nd goal.

79:20 – LAG’s 3rd goal.

Of course, the details on how Sporting Kansas City keenly executed their press and counter press out of the announced 4-2-3-1 formation was a big talking point as well, as were the prime examples of sloppy set piece defending by both sides.

And that’s the crux here – How could Sporting have executed so well defensively and still allow two open-field goals?

Let’s get into it.

Goal: D. Joveljic vs. SKC, 75′ |

Defense is organization. Offense is about disrupting that organization. Sometimes, the attacking intent is literal chaos. Most times, attack is intentional platforming: Give players a platform – or a new platform – to apply their abilities. Both sides of the ball are action, and neither are at their best when they are forced into uncomfortable decisions.

As discussed on this week’s Shades of Blue podcast, Greg Vanney’s (Los Angeles Galaxy manager) insertion of midfielder Gaston Brugman into the match at the 62nd minute allowed #10 Riqui Puig to slip forward into the attack where he could operate in the creases between Sporting’s midfield and backline.

Once Puig sees the ball going to Brugman, he darts forward, not only forcing Sporting right center back Dany Rosero three-and-a-half steps backwards but leaving the responsible minds of Kansas City’s midfield trio of Erik Thommy, Remi Walter, and Nemanja Radoja.

Credit: AppleTV

As Brugman takes his four touches, Puig moves one step wider and three steps backwards. Rosero will move only a half-step closer to Puig than the screenshot shows. Aided by the referee’s position, Puig has become David Copperfield, having slipped behind the curtain.

What should Kansas City’s defense have done? Does it take three to shutdown Brugman and starve Puig or LA’s frontrunners of service? No. Thommy, who has the best view of the midfield and is farthest from Brugman but close enough to Puig, should have provided balance and cut off the path to the Spanish playmaker instead of being worried about a less dangerous mark square to Brugman.

What of Rosero? The Columbian, who has been strong on the ball and excellent in 1v1 situations, was caught in two minds. Initially, Rosero moved with Puig as Puig feigned a deep run. Then, moving forward as Puig retreated, Rosero spies Voloder dealing with 24-year-old Bosnian striker Dejan Joveljic. Rosero decides to stay and help with Joveljic.

It’s not a bad decision by Rosero. Clearly in the week leading up to the match it was emphasized that Joveljic – who had scored in every match thus far – was to be tamed. Yet, so was Puig. Rosero made the conservative choice here, betraying what has worked so well for him – aggressive 1v1 defending. Rosero can see that Puig has snuck behind the midfield. Coming tight to Puig and not letting him turn would have been the better option in retrospect. Difficult decisions.

What ensues is the essence of an intuitive connection between an attacking midfielder and a perceptive running striker. As soon as Brugman plays Puig, Joveljic, who was being shadowed by Kansas City defender Robert Voloder as he inched back towards the ball, shifts his run slightly horizontal and then forward. The movement takes advantage of the proximity of Voloder and Rosero. Voloder detaches from Joveljic, leaving the mark for Rosero. Tag, you’re it. However, the transfer of responsibility never materializes as Rosero fails to turn his body to run with the striker. Instead, Rosero is concerned with Puig. Why? Because Puig is one clever mite.

But Rosero had seen this movie before! Just a minute previous, Puig and Joveljic pulled off a similar movement that was rightfully ruled offside. In that sequence, Rosero turned with the Bosnian when Puig received the ball. Then, seeing Puig drive marginally forward, Rosero turned back inside to anticipate a never happened ball into space for Joveljic.

Here’s the 2nd scenario just as Puig is playing Joveljic:

Credit: AppleTV

Again, Puig’s deceptive mind fools Rosero and Sporting’s center back focuses on a possible through ball. The result is ineluctable. Because Puig is special.

Seeing Rosero take the bait and knowing Joveljic’s run, Puig edges diagonally (using the referee’s position to his advantage) and cuts the ball back to his striker. But where? The place where the pass is doubly effective. Puig’s inch-perfect pass goes behind Rosero’s posture to the space where Joveljic can touch with his right foot. The correct foot here, not the downfield left boot. And the Bosnian knows exactly what to do.

Collecting with his right, Joveljic drags the ball away from Rosero as the Columbian turns and then pushes right across Rosero’s path. The movement eliminates any possible intervention. Now, Joveljic just has to finish. And he does, cooly slotting the ball inside the near post.

It’s an attacking masterclass. An attack that elite offenses pull off on the regular. It’s the movement that sets the final product up, however. The more subtle (and often the fewer) movements a player makes render him invisible as defenders continually focus on the position of the ball (Can’t score if you don’t have the ball, right?). Yet, in defense and offense alike, players are often two to three steps off the ball from greatness. It is, perhaps, what Sporting Kansas City’s attack is missing.

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