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2.0 Breakdown of the Match: Sporting Kansas City v Toronto FC

A play that ended with a Jake Davis rip is a microcosm of Sporting Kansas City near their best against Toronto FC.



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 SKC or KC 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). See the inaugural BOM here.

This week’s Breakdown will come from Sporting KC’s 3-1 away win over Toronto FC (TFC) last Saturday night at BMO Field. The following were the candidates (Match clock times are approximate):

7:28 – Willy Agada’s ball into Daniel Salloi and subsequent follow

49:35 – Salloi and bypass shots

56:53 – Sporting’s 1st goal

63:17 – Sporting’s 2nd goal

Kansas City Current? Yes, I would love to break something down from another dynamic win. But NWSL+ and I are not getting along. Access denied!

Let’s get into it.

Goal: J. Davis vs. TOR, 64′ |

But first, a few numbers: In the sixth match of the season (2-1-3, 9pts, 6th place), Sporting Kansas City posted their most shots on goal (10), their second largest expected Goals (1.56 xG), and their highest percentage of attack down the middle of the field (32%), yet their lowest rate of possession (37%) thus far. Interesting.

And for the first time this season, I (and maybe we) can say – with firm assurance – that this is a good team, even without Alan Pulido, Logan Ndenbe, Andreu Fontas, and Johnny Russell on the pitch.

And the second goal Saturday night against TFC displayed much of the reason for all of this preamble.

The series of passes begins before the replay. Nemanja Radoja, the ever-solid holding midfielder, wisely chooses to not force a pass and instead plays back to left center back Robert Voloder to keep possession. Voloder does his best Fontas impression and plays long up the left wing for left back Tim Leibold, who has pushed up the field.

None of this is earth-shattering or surprising. It is a pattern of play that has been standard for Sporting KC for at least seven years. The sticking point here is that Chief Soccer Officer and Manager Peter Vermes has put together the best roster – skill and depth-wise – for executing the established patterns of play in those seven years.

Leibold has a difficult task. The pass is over his shoulder, and he has a defender (with cover) pressing him. He could try to take the ball down and attack the endline, a selfish and out of his skillset choice. Instead, Leibold knows Salloi has space, and he knows what Salloi can do because this pattern has played out before. So Leibold pulls of an arguably more difficult move of a one-time touch to Salloi. Look how Leibold goes airborne and nearly loses his balance afterwards – that’s sacrifice and execution (this squad has those traits, and a terrific work rate, deeply embedded throughout).

Salloi, operating in the inner left channel where he is most dangerous, has already spied Agada 1v1 with a TFC center back (working often with Agada, Salloi had what was clearly his best performance of the young season).

A moment here to talk Willy. Freestyling, wreaking havoc Willy Agada. The Nigerian clearly had his best match of the season (and he was a top-rated player on versus Los Angeles Galaxy last week). I earmarked Agada for at least 11 plays that stood out during the match, whether it was a shot, strong play in combination, or strong hold up play. Or – and these were my favorites – Agada putting his shoulder into two different defenders to gain a positional advantage before the ball arrived. The 3rd-year SKC striker ended the match with 31 touches (only 11 less than v LAG with much less team possession), five shots (two on frame), two key passes, and six aerials won. All of which earned him another top player rating from (BTW, Alan Pulido has won two aerial battles all season.)

Opening his body to see the open field, Salloi quickly plays for Agada. Salloi then sneaks first, behind his defender on a run, then in front as he sees Agada look to play likely elsewhere. Salloi is threat number one. Memo Rodriguez is number two, the coming Remi Walter is number three, followed by Jake Davis in the inner wide right channel, and Erik Thommy out wide right. Sporting has opened the field and created multiple significant threats to TFC’s goal with their ball movement and a true #9 posting up and forcing his mark deep. A deep #9 means more space for everyone else.

Credit: AppleTV

Agada is a heavy threat too. And his three touches with his back to goal, where Agada seems to thrive, draw three defenders. The most direct option is for Agada to play for the running Salloi. However, that would require an awkward turn or a back heel as Salloi played for Agada’s right foot. Agada chooses right back Davis, who has acres of space thanks to Agada, Walter, and Thommy attracting invested interest from Toronto defenders.

Davis takes one perfectly weighted touch and lashes a strike inside the far post.

Credit: AppleTV

Pardon a tangent – TFC goalkeeper Luka Gavran flubs this save attempt. The fault lies, not necessarily in error, but in possible misfortune. Gavran’s right leg buckles under him as he shifts his weight to spring off the right leg for a proper lunge to his right with an extended right arm. But because of the (misstep?) buckling, there is no spring; therefore, Gavran is able to only flail awkwardly – and uselessly – with his left arm as the ball flies past him. It’s like jumping off the high board at the community pool as a kid. You are overexcited as you run from the back of the board and jump too early to only embarrass yourself as you lamely, clumsily drop into the water. No spring and no grand cannonball or gracious cliff diver imitation for you.

This BOM edition is getting lengthy. Thus, I will end with a question. Is Sporting Kansas City a more dynamic, more dangerous eleven with Willy Agada at the #9 instead of Alan Pulido? Consider this: Sporting’s construct versus Los Angeles Galaxy was a 4-2-3-1 with emphasis on stalling LAG’s high-octane attack by cutting the fuel lines to Riqui Puig and company with high pressure and counter pressure. It created a lot of chances. But rarely has Sporting’s attack caused so much trouble in its traditional 4-3-3 with its traditional patterns of play than it did last Saturday night at Toronto FC, a side that came into the match with four shutouts in their first five contests.

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