There never seems to be much time to breathe over the course of an MLS season, and this week is no different. While Orlando was unable to fully capitalize on a great opportunity to rise up the Eastern Conference standings on Saturday, the team will have a quick turnaround with yet another Wednesday game, this time at home against Sporting Kansas City.
Because the teams don’t play often, I spoke with Cody Bradley of SB Nation’s The Blue Testament, and he was kind enough to give an in-depth look at how Sporting Kansas City has fared during the 2019 season. You can find my answers to Cody’s questions over at their place.
Sporting Kansas City’s record currently sits at 7-10-7 and the team that won the Western Conference last year is 10th in the admittedly very competitive West. What’s been different this year for Sporting?
Cody Bradley: Injuries. After starting the season off great with a run in the (Concacaf) Champions League, everything started to fall apart. I’ve not seen a team be so beaten down by injuries in all my soccer fandom. They lost key players at every single spot on the field and when your team operates as a well-oiled Peter Vermes machine where very single player must do every single part of the job for every single minute, lineup consistency is vital. Vermes has started 21 different lineups in the first 24 matches. The injury storm has now subsided but the team has yet to find their groove again.
Even though the team perhaps hasn’t played up to its usual standards, the playoffs are still very much within reach, with Dallas a mere eight points away up in seventh place. What does SKC need to do in order to finish above the line?
CB: It’s crazy, right? The worst season this fan base (with very high expectations every year) has seen in almost a decade, but they’re still just eight points out. Last weekend’s loss to RSL made things much more difficult, but they’re not dead yet. The defense simply has to be better. Even when conceding goals in years past, they were organized and disciplined, but that is not the case this year. But even figuring out the defense won’t solve the problem. The attacking core, specifically Krisztian Nemeth, needs to remember how to score goals. He is dealing with an injury at the moment, but was struggling mightily before that. Daniel Salloi was the leading scorer last year and has yet to open his account this season. So...I’m sorry, but my answer here is that they need to get better at offense and defense. The talent is here to compete this season, the boys just need to remember that.
Is there a player whom you believe has really stepped up for the club this season — someone who has performed better than expected?
CB: Wow...this question hurt me! The short answer is no, and that may be a good answer to your first question. The only one that comes to mind is Graham Smith, and that is disappointing because I think he’s just a fringe player and only played about two games. He was in the doghouse last year but was able to fill in a couple times at center back. Another option could be Gerso Fernandes. He was the Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 but had a down year in 2018. He’s one of the injuries I mentioned earlier, but he has been absolutely vital when on the field.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection on Wednesday? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
CB: Salloi picked up a red card against RSL and is out for this one. He was only on the field because Gerso picked up a knock and he will probably be unavailable for Wednesday. Nemeth will still be out with an abdominal injury and on defense Botond Barath is a no-go as well. It’s possible we could see the first appearance for the new left back, Luis Martins.
Lineup: Tim Melia; Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Graham Smith, Nicolas Hasler; Roger Espinoza, Ilie, Felipe Gutierrez; Johnny Russell, Erik Hurtado, Yohan Croizet.
(No score prediction provided.)
Many thanks to Cody for all of the excellent info on Sporting Kansas City.