The one constant in football is that if Mother Nature wants to do so, she will win any match. And this certainly was the case the last time that Colorado Rapids visited Sporting Kansas City. Cody from The Blue Testament and I are certainly hoping for better weather this time around as we exchanged questions in preparation for this match. Here is what we talked about:
Burgundy Wave: Sporting Kansas City was on a 7 game unbeaten run that was snapped last Sunday at RSL and overall Sporting has lost just three matches. What is going right for SKC and what areas need improvement.
The Blue Testament: This run of success came at a very unlikely time. We had been ravaged by injuries and just had to bench the starting keeper. One thing I think is going right that has to be mentioned, is the culture that Peter Vermes has created in the team. They players, including the rookies, know he has confidence in them. They all know that if they trust the system, stay focused for every roll of the ball (that is something you hear a lot from them), and do their job this team can beat anyone. Another thing and this might be the biggest one, has been the surprise of Tim Melia in goal. As a MLS pool keeper last year he has been absolutely lights out. His first start was the 2nd of that 7 game run and it was clear from the start he wasn't looking back. Kevin Ellis has also been a surprise as he pretends to be a CB filling in for the loss of Ike Opara. The guy has somehow become something of an aerial threat and got himself on the TOTW.
However, I think that is also an answer to where the team can improve. Matt Besler needs another big, natural CB to pair with. Ellis has done some parts of the job well, but not being a real CB his positioning comes into question and he gets exposed. Vermes has stated they are looking. Something else Sporting fans would like to see improved is finishing. That really just lies with Dom Dwyer. Nobody wants to turn that around more than Dom himself, so I do still believe that time is coming. Moreover, CEO Robb Heineman tweeted about having fingers crossed because he "just hit send on an attacking offer". It is probably just a depth move, as bringing somebody in to replace Nemeth, Dwyer, or Zusi would be a major signing.
BW: We had a contributor from Burgundy Wave attend a Sporting match a couple of weeks ago (vs Seattle) and he commented on the fantastic atmosphere that exists at Sporting Park. Obviously the terrific stadium has helped to build that atmosphere, but what else makes it such a special place to watch a match?
TBT: It is a combination of many things. The ownership can be given a lot of credit. Yes it is indeed the stadium, but it was the ownership group that worked directly with The Cauldron in asking what they wanted in the stadium (and then actually listened). Sporting Club always, always makes a point to involve the fans wherever they can. They know what their target market wants and they have built an incredible brand. Of course, the fact that they starting winning immediately after re-branding and moving into the stadium is perhaps the largest factor. And they have won with big personality players, hometown heroes, and national team heroes. KC is just flat out a sports town, and although its laughable around the world, SKC has some soccer history that other teams don't. Wizards chants are common place. We can reflect on the days of playing in massive Arrowhead or the minor league ball park for a time, and enjoy the world class environment we have now. All of that has created that great atmosphere.. and that is what keeps everyone coming back.
BW: The Gold Cup is coming up and surprisingly Sporting is going to lose only two players, Graham Zusi and Marcel de Jong. How surprising was it to see Matt Besler left off the roster and how will Sporting deal with July and missing two players?
TBT: Sporting fans were preparing to lose Zusi, Besler, De Jong, Mustivar, Espinoza, and maybe even Feilhaber the way he has played. So July is actually looking pretty good at this point. It feels like this team has not had a full strength lineup one time in the last 2 years, so this shouldn't feel any different. That being said, if we didn't have Besler, we would only have one actual CB on the team. And he is only 18. So you won't hear much of a complaint from KC.
It is pretty surprising that Besler was left off, especially when you look at some of the other defenders on that list. I like John Brooks, but he has looked bad more than he has looked good thus far. There is a bit of a theory however. Perhaps Jurgen is confident and just testing some of the other guys, and then Besler will be called up for the knockout rounds when the competition gets more difficult.
(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Chance Myers, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Amadou Dia, Soni Mustivar, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Krisztian Nemeth, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi
Sporting KC 3 - 1 Colorado Rapids
You can see my answers over at The Blue Testament