Sporting Kansas City fans should really hope manager Peter Vermes is bluffing.
He says he’s not planning to change much when his team attempts to overturn a 2-0 aggregate goals deficit in their Eastern Conference Semifinal second leg on Wednesday night at Livestrong Sporting Park (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“We're not going to stray a ton from who we are,” Vermes told media this week. “They're the same guys who've been pretty darn successful all season long.”
Except against the Houston Dynamo.
Since Vermes took over the reins at SKC, he has 2-4-4 record against Dominic Kinnear’s Dynamo, including their two playoff showdowns.
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What’s more: Sporting KC have been able to score more than a goal against Houston just twice in those 10 games. It happened in the two lone wins, one featuring a match in which the Dynamo had 2-0 and 3-1 leads and another that saw the Dynamo playing with 10 men for nearly a half-hour thanks to a Carlo Costly red card.
So why not switch things up against a Dynamo team that clearly has perfected a game plan that frustrates Sporting and takes them out of their element?
That's why Vermes should toss the 4-3-3 out the window for Wednesday night’s game and the numerous fruitless crosses that are just easy pickings for the Dynamo.
Here’s one alternative: Give the Dynamo a run for their money with a 4-4-2 alignment and have C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara drive those Dynamo central defenders nuts. The two forwards could force the Houston fullbacks to pinch in to help, which would open space for SKC's Jacob Peterson and Bobby Convey on the flanks.
Scouting Report: SKC vs. HOU, 2nd leg
What about the SKC central midfield? Leave it in the hands of Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi. Let them operate from deep, make charging runs and draw fouls. Their iron lungs will cover plenty of defensive ground. And Zusi could potentially be more effective if he’s farther removed from what is anticipated to be a crowded attacking third.
If a tactical switch fails, the postgame press conference would be all about how Vermes got desperate and changed a successful system, confusing his players in the most important game of the year.
Tactical flexibility is the sign of a great manager and it happens plenty in soccer leagues around the world. You can argue it doesn’t happen enough in MLS, although Kinnear will be remembered for conducting the most successful tactical experiment this year in Houston.
Changing on the fly is not the sign of a defeated team. It’s a virtue of resourcefulness and creativity, especially when the situation is dire.
Sporting KC have just 90 minutes left before they watch an entire season of promise potentially go down the drain.
Every minute will be precious on Wednesday night. Let’s see how many of them Sporting will waste banging their head against the Dynamo’s wall with tactics that have proven not to work.
VERMES (KC) vs. KINNEAR (HOU) ALL-TIME:
Nov. 2012: HOU 2, KC 0 – Sporting struggle in their first leg Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup.
Sept. 2012: KC 1, HOU 1 – C.J. Sapong equalizes for SKC in the 93rd minute.
July 2012: HOU 2, KC 1 – SKC momentarily equalize on a Kei Kamara penalty kick.
July 2012: KC 0, HOU 0 – Sporting only manage four shots on goal against Eastern Conference champs.
Nov. 2011: KC 0, HOU 2 – Dynamo shock SKC in the Eastern Conference Championship, head to MLS Cup.
Sept. 2011: KC 3, HOU 0 – Houston’s Carlo Costly gets red card in 64th minute and Sporting run rampant.
July 2011: HOU 1, KC 1 – Aurélien Collin equalizes for KC in the 90th minute. But Dynamo were down to nine men.
Sept. 2010: KC 4, HOU 3 – Houston were up 2-0 and 3-1 before a Josh Wolff stoppage-time winner for KC.
May 2010: HOU 3, KC 0 – First-half red card to KC's Davy Arnaud plays a factor in loss.
Oct. 2009: HOU 1, KC 1 – KC forced to come from behind even after red card to Houston’s Mike Chabala.