SKC three-game breakdown: Bravo's almost back
MLSsoccer.com will break down Sporting Kansas City’s season in three-match blocks during the 2011 MLS regular season. This is the second of 11 quick glimpses into Kansas City’s season, each of which will play a critical role in the team’s quest to return to the MLS Cup playoffs.
Ninth in the Eastern Conference (1-4-1, 4 points)
April 16 at Columbus Crew: 1-0 defeat
April 23 at New England Revolution: 3-2 defeat
April 30 at New York Red Bulls: 1-0 defeat
May 14 at Los Angeles Galaxy (4-2-3, 15 points)
May 21 at Seattle Sounders (3-2-3, 12 points)
May 28 at Colorado Rapids (3-3-1, 10 points)
Player to remember … Aurelien Collin
Collin has only played in two matches since being signed just minutes before the close of the transfer window in April, but the French center back already appears to be a shrewd find for manager Peter Vermes. The former Vitoria Setubal man has shown he has the size, strength and speed to match up with MLS forwards as well as the attitude and aggression needed to keep up with the pace and physicality of the game.
Though it hasn’t all been perfect thus far – Collin was sent off against New England for an offense later determined he didn’t commit – he managed to nearly shut down fellow Parisian Thierry Henry this past weekend in New York and figures to occupy one of the center back spots for the foreseeable future. He will be a key cog in any defensive improvements Sporting put together over the next three games.
Player to watch … Omar Bravo
The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for Bravo, who is working his way back from sports hernia surgery and could be back in some capacity against the Galaxy in two weeks' time. Vermes said he hoped the Mexican international and Designated Player would be available off the bench at the Home Depot Center but he also confirmed that, as in the case of winger Ryan Smith, he would be in no rush to get Bravo back on the field at the expense of his long-term health.
After taking part in just two regular season games and receiving an early red card in the second, Bravo is still somewhat of a mystery in Kansas City as his return nears. Will he be the player who scored twice and gave Chivas USA all kind of trouble on opening night? Or will he find his recovery from surgery to be slow and arduous and lack the fitness to make the impact he is capable of at full strength?
Two things that went right …
1) Sporting are nearly back to full strength.
The past three games haven’t left much to rave about, but at least Sporting are approaching full health.
Ryan Smith finally made his first appearance of the season against New England and followed that up with a lively 45 minutes in New York. Bravo also appears to be advancing quickly on the road to recovery and has a full two weeks to work himself back with the training staff in the hopes of being available against the Galaxy.
The only lingering issues are with Luke Sassano, whose ankle continues to give him problems, and Konrad Warzycha, who isn’t expected to play at all this season.
2) At the very least, Sporting can say they have been in every game they've played.
Sporting Kansas City may have lost four games, but they’ve all been by just one goal. Overall, the club can point to goal differential (-3) as proof that they aren’t nearly as bad as their current record indicates.
Sure, SKC have allowed far too many goals, but many of those have come under extenuating circumstances and without the luxury of a full-strength back line. Still, that won’t erase the fact that Vermes’ side has already lost four games from six. At some point, those close defeats must turn into victories or draws if Kansas City want to stay in the race for the postseason.
Two things that went wrong …
1) Defensive lapses are still short-circuiting Sporting's efforts despite some improvement.
Compared to their first three matches, Sporting Kansas City have made strides from a defensive standpoint in their last three games, although it did not make a bit of difference in the results department.
SKC allowed Columbus very few chances and were unlucky to leave Crew Stadium with a 1-0 defeat instead of a scoreless draw. New England may have scored three goals, but goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen didn’t make a single save during the match and Sporting found themselves undone by a few untimely lapses and a dubious red card to Collin.
The most impressive performance of the bunch came in New York against one of the league’s most explosive sides as Collin and Julio César turned in a strong performance to shackle Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo, Dane Richards and Dwayne De Rosario. Unfortunately, one moment of carelessness did Sporting in once again.
2) Kansas City find themselves in desperate need of points with an extremely difficult three-game stretch ahead.
There is no doubt that results are more difficult to obtain on the road, but Sporting are increasingly finding themselves looking up at a very large gap between themselves and the rest of the pack. Even more worryingly, the next three games on the schedule send Kansas City to three of the top four teams in the Western Conference: LA, Seattle and Colorado.
Though Vermes has said it is not quite time to start chasing points this early in the season, SKC would truly have a mountain to climb at home should they fail to get points from these next three. As crazy as it sounds just days into May, Sporting’s hopes for the rest of the season may hang in the balance as this road trip takes shape.
In their past three games, Sporting KC had the opportunity to test themselves against their Eastern Conference rivals, limping away with a disappointing zero points from three games. Over the next month, Sporting will face a similar test in an even more daunting slate of games against the Western Conference.
And as much as they need the points, it won’t be easy to avoid a similar point total out West. The Galaxy are finally starting to find their form, Seattle are playing some of their best soccer of the year without Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White. And Colorado are still the defending champions.
Perhaps the best way to measure the resolve of a team is by how well it reacts to adversity. SKC are coming off an opening six games full of setbacks, and the next three games will say a lot about where the squad is and where it might find itself later in the season.