Sporting Kansas City continues to accumulate points in the league, stretching its unbeaten streak to 11 games overall after a 1-1 draw against Colorado Wednesday.
The tie came after an inspired 2-1 victory on the road against the Portland Timbers during the holiday weekend. I was in Arkansas or I would have commented on that performance sooner.
Wednesday Sporting played well defensively and Aurelien Collin was once again a beast in the middle. He made some timely, clean tackles when challenged one v. one late in the game. He also avoided collecting a yellow card, which he's been apt to do lately. Colorado's first half goal was a great strike from a good position by Conor Casey. The partially screened shot gave keeper Jimmy Nielsen little time to react.
In the midfield the team was a little lacking in control. Many defensive clearances went straight to Colorado defenders and a few times even Colorado midfielders. The lack of play and possession through the middle for Sporting will need to improve in the next few weeks if the team wants to stay in contention come playoff time.
Sporting's strikers played well, recording 14 shots for the game, though only four were on target.
No stranger to playing from behind, Sporting went to work. The game-changer in this contest though came in the form of a substitute.
Manager Peter Vermes made a change in the second half to bring in form C.J. Sapong on in place of Teal Bunbury. Many could argue that Sapong should have started the game. Either way, the youngster's fresh legs gave him the edge up top and he was able to hold off a defender long enough to shoot. The rebound rolled to Graham Zusi, who finished the chance easily to regain control of the game and cement at least one point in front of the home crowd.
In all reality, Sporting was unfortunate not to come away with all three points after three shots rattled off either a post or crossbar.
The team will have a few days to rest and prepare for Chivas USA at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park Saturday.
Jimmy Nielsen was all-star quality in Sporting Kansas City's midweek contest against conference power Philadelphia Union.
Recording seven saves on seven shots on target, Nielsen single or double-handedly earned the team a precious point on the road (he also had a kick save). While the back line was decent, the keeper was the only thing keeping the scoreline respectable. Let's look at the statistics:
Stat - Kansas City - Philadelphia Union
Shots - 8 - 26
Shots on goal - 0 - 7
Saves - 7 - 0
Fouls - 11 - 11
Offside - 2 - 1
Corners - 4 - 6
That's right, twenty-six. That's how many shots Philadelphia launched during 90 minutes of playing time. That's easily a season high for a Kansas City opponent and a clear indication that the midfield and defense wasn't closing on their marks quickly enough. On numerous occasions during the match Nielsen engaged in lengthy sprints to yell at teammates who were out of position or not marking properly. And he had every right to yell. Watching the game, there were several instances when Sporting midfielders could be seen walking or jogging back to mark a Union player with the ball. That's not going to get it done and it wouldn't have Wednesday if it weren't for the professional play of Nielsen. At one point the announcers on KCMO remarked at how the defenders had hung Nielsen out to dry, only to have him make a fantastic diving save to thwart a free kick goal.
Sporting's defensive backs were not completely to blame. For the most part they played well, even if the majority of the good work they did was in a recovering scramble. You can only place so much defensive blame on a team that records its fourth shutout in five games. It's also possible the defense looked worse because there was absolutely no offense from Sporting KC. Through 90 minutes the team notched eight shots, none of which were on target. They didn't even test the Union keeper. It's the third time in the team's entire history that players have failed to record a shot on goal. That just shouldn't happen in a game.
Perhaps the absence of midfielder Graham Zusi played a part in the offensive lapse. The midfielder had been at least partly responsible for four goals in the past two games. Missing due to an ankle sprain, Sporting simply could not find an adequate substitute for Zusi's creativity and current run of form.
It's probably safe to go ahead and mark Wednesday's game down as an off night for Sporting KC. The team was plagued by errant shots and an unusual number of errant passes. Despite the shortcomings and inefficiencies in the game on both sides for Kansas City, the team still managed to earn a point on the road from a team that still hasn't lost at home.
Sporting has now left the field with at least one point in six straight matches. The current trend is promising for a side still looking for consistency in the lineup. Sporting holds league honors for longest unbeaten streak behind only the Chicago Fire and league leading LA Galaxy. That's not a shabby turning of the tide for a team sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference.
Sporting Kansas City returns home to LIVESTRONG Sporting Park on Saturday for an evening match against the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps. Sporting will have the services of Aurelien Collin once again as he will return from his single game suspension. Sporting should also have defender Roger Espinoza back in the lineup as Honduras fell to Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Wednesday, freeing him of his national team obligations.
As ESPN noted in its power rankings for the league this week, Sporting has played itself back into playoff contention.
Let's hope the trend continues.
Sporting Kansas City's sudden run of good form will be tested Wednesday night when the team travels to take on the Philadelphia Union, one of the conference's top teams.
The team heads into the midweek contest following the unfortunate news that midfielder Ryan Smith will not be available the remainder of the season as he tends to family issues. The 24-year-old England native had spent most of the 2011 season on the bench recovering from surgery and most recently nursing an injury. When Smith did see playing time though, he was effective. His ability to beat his defender created some chaos for opposing teams and opened gaps for the forwards to fill. Smith also recorded one goal on three shots on target, stats the team no doubt would have liked to see him replicate as the season progressed.
Even with Smith out of the picture, the midfield doesn't lose much beside an extra sub. With Kei Kamara, Graham Zusi and Luke Sassano playing well of late, it's likely the team won't suffer at all. It helps that the team has had to play without Smith for the majority of the season. There should be little to no real adjustment required.
That's the one bit of good news Sporting KC can take into the Eastern Conference clash Wednesday.
Here's the bad news:
Philadelphia Union are unbeaten at PPL Park this season. In seven games they've won three and tied four. They've also only conceded four goals in those games, showcasing solid defensive pressure throughout.
Philadelphia has scored eight goals in its seven home games. That offensive proficiency doesn't bode well for a Sporting KC side that will be without central defender Aurelien Collin because of yellow card accumulation and defender Roger Espinoza because of Gold Cup duty. Add to that the potential return of Philadelphia's second-leading goal scorer Carlos Ruiz and you have a very intimidating situation.
To have a chance to take three points on the road, Sporting Kansas City will have to control the ball in the midfield much better than it has in recent games. While the long ball to Kamara in the corner is an effective way to drive crosses into the box, it's not the most effective way of creating actual scoring chances. If Sporting KC can win the possession battle, the team should be able to use the speed and size of CJ Sapong to help break down the Union's back line. Bravo is also overdue for a goal, so look for him to get himself in the mix with his feisty style.
The difference in this game may well come down to momentum. Kansas City is unbeaten in its last five games. Philadelphia is coming off a loss on the road to expansion team Vancouver.
Prediction: There will be a goal in this game and I'm going to give it to the team with the most road experience and the best recent form. Sporting Kansas City takes this one and extends its unbeaten streak to six games by a score of 1-0.
Game: Sporting Kansas City at Philadelphia Union
Time: 6:30 p.m.
TV: KCMO (channel 3 for standard def., channel 203 for HD)
Other soccer action
• Sporting KC won't be the only team garnering attention Wednesday evening. The U.S. Men's National Team will also be in action against Panama in the semifinals of the Gold Cup. The national team is coming off its most impressive performance of the tournament, a 2-0 victory against a streaking Jamaica. This game is a rematch of the national squad's 2-1 defeat against Panama in the group stage. If Bob Bradley can't figure out how to motivate the players for this one, his days at the helm should be numbered. The U.S. should be the favorite to advance to the final, which will likely be a meeting with Mexico. This game will be on Fox Soccer Channel and Univision.
• The FIFA U-17 (under 17 years old) World Cup began last week. The U.S. team blasted its first group opponent Czech Republic 3-0 to get things rolling. The team plays Uzbekistan Wednesday at 2:45 p.m. local time. I looked into it and only found the game on ESPN3.com. Knology says it's live on Thursday, which goes against the tournament's official site and ESPN. It's worth a look for any fan of the game. The style is much more wide open and there are plenty of scoring chances (Uzbekistan had 24 shots on goal in its opening round loss).
Sporting Kansas City recorded its first goal and first victory in newly opened LIVESTRONG Sporting Park Friday evening. The game itself was not very pretty. There was little flow and possession between Sporting and San Jose flip flopped constantly.
The defining moment of Sporting KC's 1-0 victory was, of course, the goal. A free kick taken by Graham Zusi, who in the last two contests has bagged two goals and two assists, was driven into the box and met by a streaking CJ Sapong. There was nothing the San Jose keeper could do to stop the redirect.
Sporting continued to create chances through the remainder of the first and all of the second half, but couldn't find a way to put any more balls in the net. The offensive pressure dipped and led to San Jose setting up a shooting gallery of sorts. Sporting's back line did well to prevent any solid looks, and Sporting walked away with its second victory in as many games.
The result is even more impressive given San Jose's recent form. The visitors Friday rolled in on a hot streak, having won four of their previous five matches. Defense, along with Kei Kamara's sideline runs, helped hold off the Earthquakes long enough to secure the three points.
Sporting KC now sits with 13 points in the Eastern Conference. Earning seven points out of a possible nine during the last three games, Sporting has put itself within one victory of the top half of the table.
The team will once again take to the road for a Wednesday match against conference opponent Philadelphia Union.
This will be a quick game preview.
Sporting KC is coming off its first poor offensive performance of the season. The team is still without designated player and striker Omar Bravo. He'll be out another 2-4 weeks recovering from a sports hernia. Sporting Kansas City will also be without defender Julio Cesar after he received a red card against Columbus last week.
The news isn't all bad for Sporting KC though. They will likely have the use of newly signed defender Aurelien Collin and it's possible we could see the return of Ryan Smith, who was one of KC's most effective scorers last season.
New England currently sits two spots ahead of Kansas City in the Eastern Conference standings. They are up on KC by two points, but have also played two more games. The Revs have struggled offensively but have been decently solid defensively, allowing seven goals in six games.
This game, which marks the halfway point in Sporting KC's road trip, has a similar feel to last week's contest against Columbus. Sporting will have to find ways to get striker Teal Bunbury more involved and will have to focus on getting their shots on target. It would be smart for KC to come out and attack the home team from the first whistle before the New England defense has the chance to settle down.
Prediction: There are plenty of changes and adjustments that will have to be made by Sporting KC in this game, both in personnel and tactics. Those adjustments will likely slow the pace and flow of the game, at least for a half. There will be goals in this game, but they'll cancel each other out. I'm guessing this one ends in a 1-1 tie.
In soccer, the most vulnerable moments are the five minutes following a goal. For Sporting KC Saturday, it was 61 seconds. (Check out video highlights here)
That's how long it took for the team to go from a solid 3-1 victory and three valuable points to a shocking loss and only one.
Teal Bunbury, who scored two goals in the game, summed it up nicely:
"It was disappointing — bottom line. We shouldn't have let them back in the game."
It's true. Sporting KC should have put that game out of reach. The team should have had more players behind the ball in those final five minutes. That's not to say everyone should have packed the box. In late game situations teams still need someone up top to control clearances. Whenever one of my teams played with a lead in the final minutes, we sent the ball to the corner and had a player essentially sit on it. The result was either a throw in, corner kick or goal kick — all great time wasters.
Sporting KC had opportunities to hold the ball deep and let them go. There were several crosses played out of bounds and a few needless fouls committed. Watching those final seconds though, the major mistakes were made on the defensive end.
Vancouver defender Jonathan Leathers commented after the game that a lot of teams, when faced with a 3-0 deficit, would have given up. In Saturday's case, it was the team with the 3-0 lead.
On Vancouver's first stoppage time goal, 22-year-old C.J. Sapong was caught napping on his mark, who got in behind the defense. Then defender Matt Besler was slow getting over to apply pressure to the Whitecaps player, who had far too much time to pick out a streaking teammate for an easy tap-in goal.
It's hard to say whether it was tired legs that made the defense so easy to get by in those final minutes.
On the second goal, which came just a minute later, defense was also the culprit. A missed clearance allowed Vancouver to gather the ball and send it into the box. The missed header and subsequent poor communication between two KC players could have been the worst part of the sequence, but on review of the cross, marking inside the box takes the cake. There are three defenders and three attacking players, but only two of the attackers were marked, and loosely. The goal scorer had a defender behind him instead of between the player and the goal. Another Whitecaps player was wide open on the far post.
The finishes still had to be there and the defensive lapses at the end of the game don't take away from the work the offense did. Bunbury was efficient and productive. Kei Kamara did a fantastic job of holding the ball in the opponent's offensive third. For a team missing its leading scorer, Sporting KC certainly didn't play like it. A few tweaks on the defensive end and a few more games to establish a cohesive lineup and KC should be very dangerous going forward.
They'll have a few days to recover before taking on Houston Dynamo in a U.S. Open Cup match Wednesday. Regular season action resumes April 16.
Let's hope this latest result doesn't come back to haunt them come season's end.
Sporting gave a great offensive performance through the first 70 minutes of this game. Without their leading scorer they were ahead 3-1 going into, dare I say it, stoppage time.
Then something happened.
The defense relaxed, Sporting KC seemingly stopped playing for possession and the Whitecaps made a furious comeback, scoring two goals within a minute of one another to secure their pride and a point.
This game went a long way in showing KC has great offensive potential. It's going to have to work out some late-game tactics so as to avoid a similar letdown this season.
I'll watch through the game again and give a full recap later. For now, feel free to discuss what we just saw.
There's a first time for everything and this post will serve as the first of many for this, the Stoppage Time blog. There is a clear and established soccer community here in Lawrence and the surrounding areas and this blog will attempt to cover and address whatever may be happening within those arenas.
During the next few months, a primary focus will be Kansas' own professional team, Sporting Kansas City. Anyone who's been living in the state the past few years will probably know the team as the Wizards. You'll have to bear with me as we all adjust to the new name this season.
This blog will act as a conversation starter for seasoned hooligans, new fans and those interested in or simply curious about the local adaptations of the world's most popular sport. I don't pretend to know everything there is, and that's where you get to help. I will always engage readers and commenters in what I would hope would be intelligent conversation. LJWorld's rules for appropriate comments still apply here.
In embarking on this, my first true blogging experience, I'll do what I can to bring relevant and insightful information to you, the readers.
If you're wondering how I landed this gig, I think that's fair. I've been working with the Journal-World for about two years now. I believe there's a soccer community we're missing out on here and I'd like to start catering to it. I've been involved in all aspects of the game. I've played for more than 17 years. I've coached the game and I've also been the one with the whistle. Seeing the game from so many angles and for the number of years that I have has given me a solid foundation on which to build. That's what I want will happen here.
I've followed Major League Soccer from its humble beginnings. I followed the 1996 season closely and was hooked after the first championship game went into overtime. D.C. United was my team. The combination of players like Roy Lassiter, Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno was remarkable. I also remember when Kansas City was the best team in the country in 2000. They were back again in 2004 but fell just short of the glory. Since then it's been a battle just to stay in the top half of the conference.
I wasn't born yesterday and understand the general feelings regarding soccer in the U.S. Taking that into consideration, I'm going to approach this by including a mix of the basics of the sport for beginning enthusiasts as well as some more technical information for the more veteran fans. It still won't be for everyone, but it'll be for anyone who wants it.
This blog will undoubtedly be tweaked and improved as the season progresses, that's just the nature of learning. I'm excited to get this up and running and give soccer fans of all levels somewhere to converse. Feel free to leave comments or suggestions below and I'll do my best to address them.