Peter Vermes substituted like a manager whose club was trying to erase a one-goal deficit, not protect one.
With Sporting Kansas City clinging to a 2-1 advantage over the Chicago Fire on Sunday, Vermes used all three of his subs on natural forwards: Soony Saad for midfielder Benny Feilhaber after 52 minutes, Teal Bunbury for center forward Claudio Bieler in the 73rd and Dom Dwyer for defensive midfielder Lawrence Olum in the 83rd.
It worked. The lead held up, and Sporting took three crucial away points, snapped the Fire's nine-match unbeaten streak across all competitions and moved into a share of the Eastern Conference lead.
FULL LINEUPS AND BOX SCORE
“Those guys helped manage the game, and in the end we were able to get the result,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the match. “That was big.”
Vermes had different reasons for making each of the three subs, but there was one constant behind them all: confidence in the backline of Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic.
“Everybody was good on the back four,” Vermes said. “[Olum] was getting a little tired, Claudio's been in every game the last nine days, and Benny's definitely not ready to do 90 in this environment. At the end, Lo was getting some cramps, so we switched to a 4-4-2 to help ourselves out, and at times even a 4-5-1.”
And despite his relatively short shift in the XI, Feilhaber – who banged in a shot off the left post to put Sporting up 1-0 in the 6th minute, just two minutes before Graham Zusi's long diagonal cross sailed in for a 2-0 lead – got good grades from Vermes on the day.
“He did a good job tactically in the game as well, in his position and in the way we were trying to play,” Vermes said. “He helped us quite a bit.”
OPTA Chalkboard: Sporting make the most of their opportunities to hold off Fire
The forward-heavy substitutions coincided with Sporting's second-half switch to a higher-pressing style, looking to deny chances like the one that sprung the Fire's Mike Magee for a 38th-minute goal that pulled the home side within 2-1.
“Pushing the pressure higher up the field a little bit, I think, really took away the opportunity for them to hit the ball from about midfield into our box,” Vermes said. “What happened was that their goalkeeper just had to kick the ball out, which caused them a lot of problems.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.