KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When you get down to the nitty-gritty details, Sporting Kansas City might as well have fielded two completely different teams so far in 2011.
The first played eight games and lost six times, giving up 18 goals and relegating themselves to bottom-feeder status in the Eastern Conference. The second has another eight games under their belts, but haven’t lost and collected a league-high 16 points while allowing just four goals.
And, just as the statistics imply, that change in fortunes is directly related to Sporting’s drastic improvement as a defensive unit. That’s a trend they will try to continue Wednesday night against the Colorado Rapids at Livestrong Sporting Park (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“I think they’ve gelled together as a unit pretty well,” manager Peter Vermes said, “and they do a good job coming out with the ball. All four of them, their recovery is good and they have good partnerships whether it’s the two guys on the left, the two guys on the right or the two guys in the middle. They cover and pressure pretty well.”
During Sporting’s current eight-game unbeaten streak in league play (10 games unbeaten including the US Open Cup), Vermes’ preferred defensive unit has mainly consisted of Chance Myers at right back, Aurélien Collin and Matt Besler in the middle and Seth Sinovic manning the left side, with Michael Harrington providing depth on both flanks.
Each player has their own specific roles, and during the past six weeks, they’ve settled into those like clockwork.
Myers is the quintessential attacking right back, marauding down the right flank and using his speed and skill to combine and whip dangerous balls into the penalty area. Sinovic is what Vermes called a “steady Eddy,” a consistent presence that does most things well, if unspectacularly, and rarely if ever makes a crucial blunder.
In the middle of the field, Collin is the destroyer, a relentlessly effective ball winner who has rapidly embraced the physicality of Major League Soccer and become a dangerous threat on set pieces. Last but certainly not least is Besler, who is there to clean up messes and direct traffic while acting as the cerebrum of the group.
Vermes’s shift to the current defensive line following SKC’s last-minute loss to Seattle on May 21 coincided with the club’s jump in form. But, as good as they’ve been, Myers said Sporting’s defensive success and subsequent turnaround amounts to a team effort, even if the back line has certainly stood out.
“It’s not just our back four that’s the end all be all,” Myers said. “Everybody is covering for each other. Whether it’s in the midfield or wherever. We have a good unit and it starts all the way up top with C.J. [Sapong], Teal [Bunbury] or whoever else is up there.”