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Breakdown: Sporting Kansas City too methodical?

For Sporting Kansas City, is it possible that instinctual play has given over to patterns of play and methodology?

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Back to Sporting Kansas City this week on Breakdown of the match. Let’s get into it (no reason to be slow about it…).

At 55:58 in last Saturday night’s 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake, left winger Daniel Salloi has two passing options that will likely lead to a teammate penetrating RSL’s box. Erik Thommy is making a diagonal run from the middle, while Alan Pulido lurks behind Thommy with only one man marking him.

Credit: AppleTV

Despite Salloi knowing that Thommy has an explosive first touch into space and attacking momentum that will carry the German past his retreating defender, Salloi does not play the attacking midfielder in stride. It’s a missed opportunity. Maybe Salloi was too slow to recognize the advantage. But maybe Salloi sees Pulido as the stronger option.

Credit: Apple TV

And perhaps the Mexican – being one-on-one and Thommy’s run having opened a more advantageous space that leads directly to RSL’s box – is the more dangerous option. However, Pulido himself was apparently unaware of the gigantic space, or the striker was too slow to recognize the direct route into Salt Lake’s box. Thus, Pulido remains high, making defending him easy for RSL. Salloi plays him the ball to his back left foot, the result being a turnover.

“It’s been a lot of slow, stagnant soccer from SKC in 2024,” said mlssoccer.com’s Joseph Lowery on April 30th in his “Is your team meeting expectations? Assessing the 2024 MLS season to date” article.

In Matt Doyle’s “Status report: What defines your team through Matchday 11?” on April 28, Doyle states: “I don’t know what to chalk it up to other than [Sporting Kansas City] just look slow across the board – slow athletically, slow rotations, slow reactions when the ball is lost. It’s all symptomatic of a team that has maybe gone a little bit stale and doesn’t have the talent to brute force some wins despite that.”

Key word: slow.

Let’s pause here. Some of you may be thinking, “But Sporting has scored the 4th most goals in the Western Conference this season (tied with three other sides at 18 goals for). Offense is not the problem.” Point taken.

However, the point is misleading. Kansas City has scored only one goal in four matches and have been shutout twice. Three of those 18 were scored against Portland Timbers who sport the 2nd-worst defense in the entire 29-team MLS. Whose defense is the worst? The San Jose Earthquakes, who Sporting put two on in San Jose. Lastly, yes, Kansas City’s defense has been lax too many times. Yet, Sporting KC’s model of play depends on its possession-style attack to be a significant part of its defensive scheme, keeping the ball away from the opponent’s attack.

As Lowery hints at, Sporting Kansas City has completed the 4th most passes in MLS according to FBref, and they are 9th in MLS in passes into the attacking third of the field. Both positive stats for Manager Peter Vermes’ club.

Once an attack has sprung into an opponent’s third, quickness of thought and quickness of action are imperative in taking advantage of big space or little space. Just like the above examples, quickness has been lacking for Sporting KC (see 49:50 for another example). The club is 21st in MLS in number of key passes (KP, passes that lead to a shot) and 27th in passes into an opponent’s penalty area (PPA). A related stat – average shot distance – is also revealing. Sporting is tops in MLS in average shot distance from goal. It is no wonder that Kansas City is also 24th in expected goals (xG).

In training, in warmups, Sporting’s squad shows their quickness and precise skill in tight spaces, let alone ones like the above. Is it possible that Sporting is over-programmed to think so much about keeping possession (or just attacking through wingers) that they pass up quick entries into the box? Unlikely. However, it is more probable that instinctual play has given over to patterns of play and methodology in too many moments.

To Doyle’s reflection on Sporting Kansas City’s talent level. Even when a penetrating ball is played, things like this happen too often:

Credit: AppleTV

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Mister Murse

I would say absolutely. This break down highlights how most of our goals are coming from set pieces and individual efforts. I believe only 2 or 3 were truly from the run of play.

Jacie20

Our first touch is just awful honestly.

jdkus11

I have felt this for so many years with Sporting. Anytime we get the ball in a breakaway situation, we almost always slow it down or try to make a square pass instead of looking to play a ball into space with a runner coming onto it. I don’t know how many times I’ve screamed at the TV as Salloi, Russell, or any of our wingers is streaking down the sideline with numbers and then they all of a sudden pull up their pace to play a lateral pass into the midfield. It’s infuriating to see us have an opportunity and then blow it because we have to be a “possession based” team.

And to the point people are making about offense not being an issue, I have to disagree. XG shows that we are over performing and the eye test says by a lot. On FBref, we have 12.4 XG and 18 GF. That’s over performing by nearly 6 goals. The only teams that are worse than that are the Timbers (which I don’t want to be in their company right now) and Miami which makes sense given who they have taking their shots right now. Add to that the fact that so many of our goals and shots come from outside the 18 and that seems like a big issue to me. Even though we are third for percentage of shots on target, if most of those are coming from outside the box, then the percentage of those going in is low. It was super fun to watch Remi, Thommy, and Jake hit bangers, but it’s not sustainable and we’re seeing that now that the well has run dry.

kcrews123

It might be my eye-test, but I think Salloi is the biggest culprit of what you mention about going down the sideline then pulling up to play a ball backwards or lateral. Countless times each game he does that.
Granted, these definitely not the only one.

We aren’t great at pounding the box, but there’s at least 3 or 4 chances per game where a simple forward ball into space would be huge.

Last edited 7 days ago by kcrews123
Mister Murse

Might that be why it was so refreshing having thommy on the wing?

Chad Smith

Really good breakdown Robert. I just got a chance to read today.

Last season, I think of the Tulsa Athletic game. SKC were in bad form and Ethan Bryant subbed on and instead of playing the ball backwards like I believe multiple players pointed and told him to, he was aggressive and the team scored off that play.

I imagine they don’t do it more because they are too slow to get back if they screw up. Slow. Just like the story says.

Mister Murse

If I recall, salloi pointed backwards and Ethan went forward.

Howlie2

My favorite thing about Kinda is that he always tried to turn forward with the ball. He rarely played back. Without him, no one other than Thommy looks forward and he only does it on occasion. The SKC back pass elicits a sigh and mutterings of “naturally” or “or course” every time it looks like something could happen forward.

I believe that PV’s coaching stifles creativity in players. I’m pulling that out of my 4th point of contact though.

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