MLSsoccer.com will break down Sporting Kansas City’s season in three-match blocks during the Major League Soccer regular season. This is the third of 11 glimpses into Kansas City’s season, each of which will play a critical role in the team’s quest to return to the playoffs.
Ninth in the Eastern Conference (1-6-2, 5 points)
May 14 at Los Angeles Galaxy: 4-1 defeat
May 21 at Seattle Sounders: 1-0 defeat
May 28 at Colorado Rapids: 1-1 draw
June 4 at Toronto FC (2-5-6, 12 points)
June 9 vs. Chicago Fire (1-4-6, 9 points)
June 12 at FC Dallas (6-3-4, 22 points)
Player to remember: Matt Besler
Besler (pictured above) started the first five games of the season in central defense before manager Peter Vermes shifted his lineup and gave Aurélien Collin and Júlio César a chance to form their own partnership against New York and the LA Galaxy. Two defeats and a few sketchy moments later, Besler found himself back in the lineup next to Collin and hasn’t looked back.
Besler started three consecutive games last week (against Seattle, New England in the US Open Cup, and Colorado) and played mistake-free soccer to help Sporting go 1-1-1 with only two goals allowed.
After a disappointing sophomore campaign in 2010, it looks like Besler is ready to take ownership of a starting role alongside Collin — an encouraging sign for a SkC squad that desperately needs some continuity across the back line.
Player to watch: Omar Bravo
Bravo is finally back following sports hernia surgery, and that can only be good news for Sporting Kansas City.
C.J. Sapong is a hard worker and physical presence and Graham Zusi’s versatility is certainly a virtue, but neither was able to truly replace Bravo’s savvy and experience on the left flank during brief cameos. With Bravo back in the lineup for the club’s last three matches, Kansas City have finally had the opportunity to start working their Designated Player into the mix.
Bravo got his legs under him against the Sounders, led a dominating performance against the Revolution, and took another step forward in his recovery in Colorado. With another game under his belt after the match against Toronto this coming weekend, Bravo will undoubtedly be one of the catalysts for any momentum Sporting create heading into their new stadium.
Two things that went right
1) Sporting have strung together two straight results
It may seem minor, but Sporting have no choice but to focus on baby steps at this point. Drawing in Colorado was big for the club after a heart-wrenching loss in Seattle. The shellacking they put on New England in midweek Open Cup action was a boon for their stuttering confidence as well.
Now, the challenge will be prolonging that run as every game, point and roll of the ball counts. Kansas City already dug themselves a formidable hole by virtue of five straight defeats after a fairly positive start, and the only way to truly remedy that dreadful stretch will be to put together a positive run of results during the coming weeks.
2) Only Toronto stand between Sporting and the unveiling of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park
For the better part of three months, Sporting’s season-opening 10-game road trip has been beaten to death by media, coaches and players alike. Hyperbole aside, nobody really knew just how difficult the stretch would actually be.
It turned out the club’s travels were more trying than anyone could have imagined. Fortunately, the end of the road is rapidly approaching. SKC will travel north of the border this Saturday with a prime opportunity to end their road trip on a positive note against the scuffling Reds. More importantly, they do so knowing that the next step will be moving into a new stadium, where they will play 17 of their final 24 matches.
Two things that went wrong
1) A late collapse in Seattle cost a crucial point
Kansas City need every last point they can get, especially on the road. Watching one slip away in stoppage time for the second straight year in Seattle was a veritable punch to the gut. After putting the shackles on Sigi Schmid’s men for 92 minutes, Jeff Parke ran Roger Espinoza into a pick and nodded in a corner kick to bury Sporting even further down the table.
But as heartbreaking and demoralizing as that defeat was, Vermes and his players managed to move on and bounce back. If they can continue building on their current run of encouraging form, the loss in Seattle may yet be the game observers look back on as the unlikely spark for their transformation.
2) Bunbury is struggling to find the back of the net
Looking purely at production, it is no mystery why Bob Bradley chose to leave Teal Bunbury at home during June’s Gold Cup.
The 21-year-old has three goals and two assists in eight games, but hasn’t scored since April 2, when he dropped a brace on Vancouver. That’s not bad at first glance, but it surely doesn’t guarantee a striker — even one as promising as Bunbury — a place with the national team. Of course, the trickle-down effect of Sporting’s struggles and injury worries is that Bunbury hasn’t gotten a steady stream of service.
The problem is that Bunbury isn’t finishing the chances he does get and his overall game isn’t as sharp as normal, either. Still, any offensive success Sporting have is going to come in some part from their young international, and with Ryan Smith and Bravo back from injuries, Bunbury should have plenty of opportunities to put a disappointing two months behind him.
Kansas City may not have gotten anything close to what they wanted from this road trip, but a victory in Toronto would still give them eight points from 10 road matches.
That’s not going to pace MLS by any means, but it is serviceable in a league where home sides tend to rule the roost. More immediately, three points would also be a huge confidence booster ahead of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park’s grand opening, as the club hasn’t won in the league since March 19.
But no matter where Sporting play their final 25 games, it’s all about raw results from here on out. Earn enough of points, particularly at home, and the playoffs will be within reach. Fall short, and ownership will be looking at three-straight seasons without a postseason appearance, something they’ve already said is unacceptable.