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Scouting Report: De-mystifying Sporting KC

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There’s no magic in these former wizards, only out of control brooms

MLS: Sporting KC at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Who You’ll Watch

The Seattle Sounders will be playing their second game in four days when they travel to Children’s Mercy Park to take on Sporting Kansas City. This is the first of of two regular season meetings and the only one that will take place in Kansas City this year.

Sporting is currently in third place in the West with 15 points in 11 games played. The Sounders free fall continues as they now find themselves below Minnesota United in ninth place with ten points in ten games.

Sporting took both regular season games last year, beating the Sounders by a combined score of 4-0. The last one being a 3-0 drubbing that led to the firing of Sigi Schmid. But the Sounders won when it mattered the most, during the Western Conference Knockout Round.

Sporting is coming off of a 2-2 tie against Orlando City, while the Sounders are licking their wounds after their 4-1 defeat to the Fire on Saturday. The Sounders will be without Joevin Jones, after he picked up two yellow cards in about 90 seconds this past Saturday.

On the injury side of things, Sporting is pretty healthy. Only Diego Rubio (torn ACL) is listed on the injury report. For the Sounders, they aren’t as fortunate. Roman Torres (left hamstring strain) didn’t travel to Chicago and who knows if he will meet the team in Kansas City. Oniel Fisher is still dealing with his hamstring issue he picked up early in April and it would be nice to see him on the field this Wednesday night.

Sporting Kansas City Form: L-W-W-L-D

Top Scorer: Dom Dwyer, 5 goals

Top Assist leaders: Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, 2 assists

Notable Sporking KC roster changes:

Out: Brad Davis, Jacob Peterson, Justin Mapp, Lawrence Olum. Paulo Nagamura,

In: Soony Saad, Andrew Dykstra, Gerso Fernandez, Latif Blessing, Colton Storm

What To Watch

Sporting Kansas City is as system-based a team as exists in MLS. Raputin stand-in/head coach Peter Vermes loves to play rugby in a 4-3-3 like Grigori loved manipulation and political power plays. Much of the team has been together for years now, and the familiarity shows up in the spacing and movement. Criss Angel wannabes/core mainstays in Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber, Roger Espinoza, and Dom Dwyer have allowed the team to maintain a demanding system. They’ve kept the “tenacious” identity around, serving up the (highly unofficial) most crunching tackles per game in the league, while also leading the league in Wondolowski Whines.

Defensively they’ve been the best team in the league, thanks in part to the ever-fragile Ike Opara coming good as one of the best CBs around. SKC use a zonal marking system that demands significant fitness to work, and requires coordination from front to back in movement and spacing to not be torn apart. They’ve reduced the intensity of their high press and accepted teams penetrating deeper into their territory, but it’s been done tactically to allow the forward line and Feilhaber more space to work with. Dwyer continues to annoy everyone who has to watch him play, and puts the people he’s playing against into fits (10 games in, and as a forward, he’s already served a YC accumulation suspension), all while leading the team in goals.

On the other side of the ball, they average a shot a game less than Seattle (14 v 15.1, good enough for 2nd in the league behind us), they’re putting over 13 of those on target (also 2nd in the league), and yet they’re 17th (of 22) in the league with 12 goals. New RF Gerso has started getting his feet under him, and looks like he might be the goal-dangerous WF the team has needed, but Jimmy Medranda does not look to be the answer on the other side. As a result, the team is pretty heavily slanted to the right in legitimate attack, with Seth Sinovic providing the only true threat on the left.

Keep the field open - SKC’s midfield plays narrow by design. The goal of its wide forwards in defense is to push balls back into the middle, which allows them to use superior numbers to create havoc and turnovers. They quickly turn these into counters, and their counters into shots. Both Minnesota and Orlando found success against them by spreading the field, using wide wing play and long switches on both sides to pull the midfielders out wide and create space to work.

This was particularly successful on counterattacks, where the midfield had been pulled up and the outside backs had pushed forward to provide width. Unlike in Seattle’s 4-2 defensive lines, Kansas City’s CBs do not pull out nearly as wide to cover when the backs are pushed up, leaving lots of space to work into. Compounding, Zusi enjoys cutting inside from his RB position in the offensive section. Orlando attacked this space repeatedly with Carlos Rivas to much success, and the Sounders will want to do similar.

This will (hopefully) be a great match to get Brad Evans back for, and whoever fills in at LB will want to push forward into these spaces. Pressing the issue before the strong defensive structures are allowed to be set in will also help create chances.

Find (quality) shooting balance - Pushing on offense only gets you so far, though. As in most things, balance in offensive contribution is pretty important. Too consistently shaded in any one direction and teams will narrow their focus, daring the rest of a team to beat them.

Over 25% of the Sounders shots come from the foot of Clint Dempsey, but of his 42 shots on the season (out of the team’s 151), he’s put only 10 of them on frame. Will Bruin, a TF with three starts under his belt (5 OT/14 TS), has as many shots as CDM Osvaldo Alonso (3/14), who’s three behind Jordan Morris (6/17) and only four behind Nicolas Lodeiro (5/18).

Larger picture problem, they’re dead last in shots-per-shot-on-target ratio (even including the 11 shots off the woodwork doesn’t bring them out of bottom third in the league). For all their possession (the Sounders rank middle of the pack in passes per shot, so it’s not that they’re shooting a lower pace than everybody), they’re not generating threatening chances out of it.

This sort of imbalance isn’t unsustainable in the sense that the Sounders can still be a decent team with it, but it’s not what is expected of a team with the tools this one has. This Sounders team isn’t built to have Dempsey be the sole driving force of the offense in the same way David Villa is for NYCFC.

Sporting KC and their quality defense isn’t going to be an easy place to begin to remedy this - they’re very good at forcing the ball to where they want it to go. The spacing from zonal marking may offer a few chances The team needs the non-Dempseys to figure out how to pull the trigger more often, and pull the trigger better when they do. A better balance in shots probably results in more and higher quality chances all around.

Expected Lineups

Seattle: Frei; LOLWUT, Svensson, Marshall, *crosses fingers*; Alonso, Roldan; Morris, Dempsey, Lodeiro; Bruin

Failed Wizards: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Sanchez, Feilhaber; Gerso, Dwyer, Medranda

How to Watch

Date/Time: Wednesday, May 17 5:30 p.m.

Venue: Children’s Mercy Park

Television: JOEtv