Slumping Sporting KC needs to find confidence, consistency fast

It’s a simple fact that you can’t do well in any sport, in any league, without winning some games.

In Sporting Kansas City’s case, even a few ties here and there would help.

The bottom line is that it’s not happening for the club. The defense, which looked solid two games ago against New York Red Bulls, has seemingly taken a step in the wrong direction. It’s happened with a finally consistent lineup and an extra week of down time to get everything right. Even with the rest and preparation and familiar roster, Kansas City was blown out in Los Angeles. If fans haven’t started wondering if there will be anything other than a stadium opening to look forward to this season, they haven’t been watching very closely.

I will grant that opening any season with 10 games on the road is going to be tough for any team. Not having a set routine and having to travel and adjust to different time zones and cities constantly isn’t easy for any athlete. That’s why they call it home-field advantage. That being said, it’s not the fact that Sporting Kansas City is dropping points that should worry fans and probably even the players. It’s the way in which they are losing those points.

I’ll refer to them as fatal mistakes. In essence that’s exactly what they are. They are gaffes at the wrong times and in the wrong parts of the field that have soul-crushing consequences.

Let’s look back on the season so far and recount where those mistakes have happened. Vancouver is probably the best example. Sporting held a 3-1 lead going into the FINAL MINUTES of that game. Instead of coming out with three points on the road and some much-needed confidence, Sporting fell asleep and allowed two late goals. That was crushing.

The same thing happened against New England a few games later. Sporting was ahead 2-1 and somehow lost 3-2 in the end. Another late goal sealed the fate of that game and Sporting KC was on the losing end of a winning performance. Even with the five extra points from those two games, Kansas City wouldn’t be sitting at the bottom of the league table. The next three games would still be important, just not as important as they are now.

Sporting’s most recent contest against L.A. went the same way. The team was gifted the lead off an own goal and then commits a needless foul inside the box to give it right back. Then some ball watching and extremely lazy defending saw Landon Donovan break the tie just seconds into the second half. After that nothing got better. Sporting players may have still been on the field but they sure didn’t look like they had any will to win.

Up through this point of the season, Sporting has played fewer games than every other team in its conference. This still does not excuse their poor play and critical mistakes. The team’s defensive lapses have resulted in goals for the opponents more often than not recently. It’s not to say that Kansas City has a bad team. That’s just not true. They have talent in certain positions and experience in others. They just haven’t found a way to string together a full 90 minutes without giving something away. That may come in time and it may not. It’s hard to say when an extra week of rest and training leads to 4-1 losses.

Looking ahead

Sporting’s road trip won’t get any easier this week as the team heads up to soccer-loving Seattle to take on the Sounders. If there are any tough places to play, it’s in the stadiums of the leagues newer teams. Seattle isn’t the newest, but the northwest coast is proving there is an American interest – and even desire for – the sport. Seattle currently sits in the middle of the Western Conference table, capturing 14 points through 11 contests. The team itself is balanced, with scoring coming from a variety of positions and players. I don’t expect Kansas City to win this game but I will predict a tie. Sporting has to get a point. The players may not admit it, but their current form has to be taking a mental toll. They need a result this week not just for the team’s playoff hopes, but for the players’ own sanity and togetherness.

To get back on track, Sporting needs to find a way to have everyone focus for an entire game. Simple mistakes on defense need to be avoided. Midfielders need to be more active on both the offensive and defensive end. They aren’t doing a good job of filling in gaps in the middle and that’s allowed teams to treat the back line like a sieve. Trying out a formation that clutters the middle third of the field may help Sporting weather its current poor form. The return of Omar Bravo should give the scoring a spark which at this point in the season is crucial. Kansas City has some talent between the posts, but it needs to pick a keeper and stay with him. The best teams in the league – and the world – usually play one good keeper. Sporting needs to get on that.

Club news

Sporting Kansas City’s parent organization, Sporting Club, announced this week that it is launching a network to connect with and benefit area soccer programs and other organizations. Among the founding members of the network are area organizations such as Kaw Valley Soccer Association and Leavenworth Soccer Association. The network will help create a Sporting KC following through taking advantage of area soccer interests.

LIVESTRONG Sporting Park is scheduled to open June 9th with a Sporting game against Chicago Fire. I will be taking another tour of the facility to see what progress has been made as the grand opening draws near. If there’s anything you’d like to see or any questions you’d like to have answered regarding the new stadium, let me know and I’ll be sure to fulfill those requests during the tour.

Around the league

Rumors have begun circulating that U.S. National team star Landon Donovan is being pursued by Italian club AS Roma. Donovan, who’s had stints in the German Bundesliga and the English Premiere League, has refused to entertain any questions regarding his future in MLS or a potential move overseas.

Major League Soccer’s Players’ Union released salary information for all the league’s players. ESPN compiled a list of the most overpaid and underpaid players in MLS. Kansas City had one of each.