Here we are 9 games into the season and we haven’t won an MLS game yet. When I accepted MLS Now’s offer to be their Sporting KC correspondent, I never thought we’d be here. Sure, I had a lot of personal things going on in my life that I knew would be taxing and get in the way of how often I could write (I have a beautiful newborn daughter and I recently moved cross country from California to Washington DC), but I never thought SKC would be 9 games into a 34-game season with no wins to their name. As injuries were announced, I had to temper some of my expectations, but I never thought in a million years it would get this bad. So, how’d we get here and is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Are we so bad that we will somehow get relegated out of a league that doesn’t have pro/rel? Let’s look at it.
How’d we get Here
Last year ended on an incredible 10 game run that had a lot of fans very excited for this year’s games. With the additions of Gadi Kinda and Alan Pulido to last year’s mid-season pick-ups of Erik Thommy and Willy Agada it looked like going into the season we were going to be an offensive powerhouse with depth up front. Our back line looked shaky, but with a new La Liga caliber 6 in front of them a lot of people were feeling good. Unfortunately, injuries were the name of the game to start the season. Alan Pulido has only appeared recently and is shaping into form, Johnny Russell has been injured most of the season, Gadi Kinda just got his first minutes of the year against a tier 4 team, Willy Agada has a fractured leg, Kayden Pierre is hurt, Ford was injured in the preseason and will miss the whole year, Radoja showed up to get hurt, Logan Ndenbe also showed up to training camp late to hurt himself. It’s been a really bad start health wise to say the least, but not all of SKC’s woes can be blamed purely on the health of the team.
On top of all the health issues, Peter Vermes (the team’s manager and Sporting Director) team building has to be called into question. During the offseason he re-signed pet players Khiry Shelton, Roger Espinoza, Andreu Fontas and Graham Zusi. Khiry, so far this year, has been his usual self. He is as good as a log on the field. He often draws praise from local pundits for not committing mistakes like keeping opposing attackers on-side (he’s an attacking player, that’s not his job) and doing his weird-- never full stride-- tippy toe run as a fake press, always pulling away before he can cause a turnover or impact the game. Roger still plays with fire, but he’s slow and leaves holes in the defense that expose our defensive players. Fontas already has a red card, and when he is left to man mark a player, he usually gives them free shots at goal. Zusi, although performing better than the rest of this group, often crosses the ball to no one, and has been exposed multiple times so far this year for being out of position.
All of these players have seen extended runs this season and, in most cases, there are replacements on the bench that have equal skill sets and maybe even some upside to them. Tzionis is probably our most skilled ballhandler, and he sits on the bench while Shelton is out there playing out of position on defense, killing our offense and looking like a deer in headlights. Espinoza and Felipe Hernandez are like for like, except Hernandez still has legs. With the addition of Danny Rosero, Fontas can be replaced by Voloder yesterday and I think we’d all be happy. Zusi, is in a different boat. With Ndenbe’s and Pierre’s injuries, there’s no one to take his place, and especially no one who might be better.
Peter’s tactics have also been questionable. He’s trying to play a possession based 4-3-3 system. Beautiful football. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work when you are clearly the undermanned team. In a game where you’re trying to win, beauty is a luxury. In some of the games early, he tried to adapt the 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 where he kept Khiry back a little bit. I guess he realized that Khiry didn’t really add anything to the attack. That said, the attacking patterns are familiar, and it looks like the teams we play against know them. We often get a decent number of shots, but we rarely get dangerous shots. Tactically, it doesn’t look like Peter has the answers.
Where We’re At
I’m writing this on Saturday, April 29th. That means that we beat a fourth tier semi-pro team just Tuesday. The scoreline was 3-0, but only the second two goals would have stood a chance against MLS opposition. Additionally, we gave up a bad penalty in the first half that we were lucky to have saved. That said, it’s important to see the ball go in sometimes, and hopefully the added confidence will help to pay off against Montreal today. Alan Pulido especially looks to have gained confidence from his open cup performance. The team continues to get healthier. Kortne Ford is out of his cast, Gadi Kinda looked good against a semi-pro team and Alan Pulido continues his push to be his former quality. I really want this team to perform. I’m a fan. I’ll always root for the guys to pull through. I want to see Ethan Bryant on the field vs real competition.
How we get Better
I know he won’t resign, and he was just re-signed for another 5 years, but Peter can’t continue in his current role. All of the issues with the team can be traced back to him. Its his tactics, his personnel and his coaching decisions being presented on the field. We’re old, we’re slow and our formula is stale. He either needs a new decision maker for the field, or a new decision maker for the roster (or both). He has proven that he doesn’t have what it takes to do both jobs in todays MLS. Last year we didn’t make the play-offs and this year we’re looking like the worst team in the league. Something needs to change. I think we have the talent to win tonight, and hopefully that’ll build some confidence in the team to where they could string a few results together. Barring that, multiple people need to be fired and we need to find a new path forward. The current captain turned the boat in the wrong destination and he hasn’t shown he has the ability to turn us around.
@SKCSpins on Twitter. Get at me bro!