KC Breakdown: Attack lags, Júlio César stumbles

Result…

1-0 defeat on Saturday night against Crew (2-1-2, eight points) at the Crew Stadium

Table position…

Tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference with four points (1-1-2) with 30 games remaining

Three things to take away…

1) The Crew’s defense kept Sporting from finding a comfort zone.

One month into the regular season, Columbus have found their own recipe for success. The Crew walked away with a shutout for a club record fourth-straight game by staying compact and keeping players behind the ball.

Instead of creating space through timely turnovers and pressure on the ball, Kansas City were frustrated by a side that invited pressure then closed down space while effectively shutting down service into Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and C.J. Sapong.

By the time Robbie Rogers stole in to score the game winner 10 minutes after halftime, Columbus had control of the pace of the game and Sporting never really recovered.

2) Kansas City have offensive weapons, but miss Omar Bravo and Ryan Smith

As its early start showed, Kansas City’s attacking options have improved from 2010. Still, the lack of an attacking option off the bench against Columbus put manager Peter Vermes in a difficult position when it became clear a change of pace was in order. Bunbury, Kamara and Sapong are each potent threats in their own right, but Bravo and Smith bring alternative skill sets that may have helped break down a resolute Crew defense. Unfortunately, Bravo is still weeks away from returning, but Smith could be ready for a role off the bench as early as this Saturday against New England.

3) One classy finish aside, the defense is beginning to mesh.

As much difficulty as Kansas City had going forward, Columbus experienced very similar restrictions. Apart from Robbie Rogers’ sliding finish, the Crew had very little luck creating scoring chances. Sure, Jimmy Nielsen managed to get a foot on the ball to keep out a gilt-edged opportunity from Eddie Gaven, but the oodles of open space that plagued the back line against Vancouver were nowhere to be found. That’s an encouraging sign for Sporting, but one that could still be a little misleading against a Columbus side that has struggled to score goals all season. Only time will tell.

Two players who stood out…

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen

No player truly stood out for Kansas City, but as usual, Nielsen did his best to keep his team in the game. His stop on Gaven gave Sporting a chance to recover for the draw, but the visitors couldn’t find a way forward and left with a 1-0 defeat.

Defender Júlio César

Early returns on Júlio César (pictured at top) as a distributor from the back line have been somewhat encouraging. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the veteran’s defending so far. The Brazilian’s first yellow card against the Crew was questionable, but it also deprived Columbus of a goal-scoring opportunity when the referee didn’t award what appeared to be clear advantage.

His second yellow and the red card that followed can be directly attributed to his inability to stay on his feet. Andrew Heinemann may have had Júlio César one-on-one after overpowering Birahim Diop, but the physical forward was still a magnificent run away from even sniffing goal. By going to ground, the defender gave Heinemann an opportunity that he wouldn’t have had before, resulting in a second yellow and KC going down a man when the ball happened to hit the Brazilian’s arm.

One play that changed the game…

Kansas City looked set to walk away with a point, or even three with a little luck, before Rogers gave the home side a goal advantage. From that point onward, Columbus took control of the game and their confidence continued to grow as the minutes ticked off the clock. Sporting were lucky not to go down two. By the time Júlio César was sent off, the odds were already stacked against them.

Final verdict…

There weren’t too many positives to take away from this one, but it is still important to take Kansas City’s overall position into consideration before getting too worried. Like most clubs, Sporting are still trying to find their identity. And although SKC sit last in the Eastern Conference with four points, manager Peter Vermes’ side has played just four games. A victory against New England would put the club one point behind where New York, Columbus and Houston currently stand after five games. Not bad for a team that hasn’t had the luxury of a home game so far.

Next up...

Saturday April 23 at the New England Revolution (1-2-3). Sporting will look at this game as an opportunity to keep pace in the East, but Steve Nicol’s men won’t make it easy. After all the offensive success Vermes’ side had in its first three games, Columbus showed future opponents one method of slowing that down. How Sporting adjust and recover will dictate whether they come away with a positive result against the Revs.