Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sporting KC Drop Points; Draw Montreal 1-1.

If there's one thing Sporting Kansas City has been good at this season, especially at home, it's taking care of the ball. The careless giveaways last season led to dropped points, at home and on the road.

It's unfortunate, then, that a giveaway led to a Montreal equalizer late in the 2nd half. Midfielder Soni Mustivar's pass looked like it was intended for either Kevin Ellis or Tim Melia, but wasn't really towards either one. Second half substitute Matteo Mancosu ran onto the tweener, chipped it over Melia and into the back of the net in the 82nd minute.

There are a couple things that make a result like this disappointing/frustrating. First, Sporting KC controlled the vast majority of the possession. For the match, the home side had 66.1 percent of the ball (70 percent in the first half, 62.2 percent in the 2nd).

This was, though, a byproduct of the way Montreal came to play (or not play, as Peter Vermes would say in the post-game presser). The formation Montreal started the game with was a 5-4-1. When you come out in a formation like that, what you're saying to the other team is you'll be happy with a draw and you really don't care if you score. When Ignacio Piatti took Montreal's second shot in the 21st minute, it looked like he really didn't care if it went in or not. At least, I think that's fair, considering that it bounced on it's way into Melia's chest. In fact, four of Montreal's five first half shots came from outside the 18, but only two of the five were on target.

Sporting KC, on the other hand, had 10 shots in the first half, four on target, and half were inside the 18. With some better luck, they might have had at least two goals at halftime, if Dom Dwyer's shot in the 15th minute hadn't dented the crossbar. In fact, if they hadn't already taken down the goalposts, they might still be vibrating.

The other thing that makes it frustrating is that it seemed like Montreal had more of the possession after Chris Duvall picked up a straight red in the 86th minute. I don't have any numbers I can point to, but it just seemed that way. Now, Sporting did have the last three shots of the game, but they all came more than four minutes after the red card. They did almost manage a winner out of it, but the unfortunate keyword in that phrase is almost. And almost only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and nuclear weapons.

The fortunate thing about a disappointing result like tonight is the team has another game on Wednesday, as Minnesota United comes in for a fourth round match-up in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The two clubs last tangled on June 3rd, with Sporting KC coming away with the 3-0 victory. While it stands to reason the Loons will come in trying to prove they're a better team than they showed last time they were here, who really know what kind of changes coach Adrian Heath might have in store. Kickoff for the match is set for 7:30.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sporting KC Down MN United 3-0; Extend Home Unbeaten Streak to 16

If  you were to describe Saturday's match between Sporting Kansas City and  Minnesota United with a movie title, one good choice could be "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest." Another (courtesy of Steve Brisendine) could be " It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," or maybe "The Gods Must Be Crazy."

To give you an idea of just how crazy this game was, Sporting had 17 shots in the first half (five on target), six were from outside the 18. MNUFC had one shot from outside the 18, but it wasn't on target.

The goal giving SKC the 1-0 lead at halftime came from defender Ike Opara and could only be described as a worm-burner from distance. Before taking the shot, it appeared that Opara took a look around and decided, "Why not?" He wound up from about 30 yards out and the ball was never more than a few inches off the ground as it passed a flat-footed Bobby Shuttleworth. Shuttleworth still hadn't moved when the ball came back out of the net and hit him on the left hand.

There were five yellow cards in the first half, but none in the second. The weird thing would be that both goalkeepers were given yellows. In the 43rd minute, Shuttleworth is booked for time wasting. When you're given a yellow for time wasting, that's one thing. When you get it in the first half, that's just stupid, especially when you have already been warned.

Just over a minute later, Tim Melia was shown yellow for dissent after asking referee Jorge Gonzalez to show a yellow card for a MNUFC foul. Gonzalez showed yellow all right, but to Melia instead.

The weirdness continued in the 54th minute. Soony Saad put a shot off the underside of the crossbar that appeared to bounce behind the goal line. No goal was signaled, so Jimmy Medranda followed up and headed home the rebound. With goal-line technology, Saad would have scored his first of the season, but as it stands, Medranda got his first of the campaign.

Not to take anything away from his accomplishment, but another weird event would have to be Saad Abdul-Salaam scoring the first goal of his career. Gerso Fernandes put the ball across the face of goal, where second half sub Dom Dwyer attempted to toe-poke it into the back of the net. Shuttleworth saved that shot, but the rebound came straight to Abdul-Salaam, who popped it in in the 87th minute.

The win extended the club's home unbeaten streak to 16, and the announced attendance of 20,361 marked the 94th consecutive MLS sellout at Children's Mercy Park. At least some things are still normal in Kansas City

Next up for the club is a home match against the Montreal Impact. Kickoff is set for 7:00 on Saturday, June 10th.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sporting KC Run Home Unbeaten Streak to 14; Defeat NYRB 2-0

Sporting Kansas City continued their strong run of form at home with a dominant 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in front of 18,965 fans at Children's Mercy Park.

The win, the club's sixth clean sheet in nine matches this season, pushed Sporting's record to 5-1-3 (18 pts., 1st in the West), while New York dropped to 5-4-1 (16 pts., 2nd in the East). It also extends Sporting's home unbeaten streak to 14 games. Their last home loss was 1-0 to DC United on May 27, 2016.

It was a second half brace from in form forward Dom Dwyer, along with another solid defensive performance by the back line and goalkeeper Tim Melia that powered Sporting to the result.

Dwyer's two goals were both scored on his right foot, making three goals in two games on the surgically-repaired appendage (bone spurs were removed in the offseason). It is the first time Dwyer's scored more than two goals on his right foot in the same season in his career.

The effort to get Dwyer to shoot with his right foot more often has two benefits. One, clubs would not be able to focus on his left foot as much. The second is, according to the team's head trainer Kenny Ishii, it would make Dwyer more durable in the long run by not putting as much strain on his right foot because he wouldn't be using it as his plant foot as often.

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Digging into the stats a bit, it's a little surprising that Sporting were not able to get a goal in the first half. While Sporting did have the lion's share of the possession in the first 45 minutes (62.5 percent to 37.5 percent), what they didn't do is take advantage of New York's poor passing accuracy (only 56.8 percent).

While the Red Bulls' passing accuracy did improve in the 2nd half to 75.1 percent, that only brought the full game figure up to 67.2 percent. You don't win a lot of matches with numbers like that.

You also don't win all that often when you only get off six shots (two on target). Sporting, on the other hand, had 18 total shots, with eight on target.

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Up next for Sporting KC: The club travels to Minneapolis to take on Minnesota United FC on Sunday. The game will be aired on FS1 at 12:30 p.m. CDT. Minnesota will be on a full week's rest, having lost to San Jose 1-0 on April 29th at home.

It will be interesting to see if some of Sporting's starters get rested on Sunday (as one might expect in the third game in nine days) or if Peter Vermes will continue with his "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude. Considering the club's goals against average is 0.33, it wouldn't surprise me if it's the latter.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sporting KC Remains Unbeaten; Smoke Colorado 3-1.

In front of 19,249 fans at Children's Mercy Park, Sporting Kansas City put on what could be considered one of their most dominant performances of the season in a 3-1 defeat of the Colorado Rapids. Featuring goals from three different players and a strong performance from the defense, particularly goalkeeper Tim Melia and defender Ike Opara, the club ran their unbeaten streak to five. They are one of only three unbeaten clubs in the league, Dallas and Toronto being the others.

Sporting KC started the scoring early from an unlikely source. Left back Seth Sinovic pounced on a rebound from goalkeeper Tim Howard on a shot by Gerso Fernandes and drove it into the back of the net for his first regular season goal (4th in all competitions).

After the goal, the Cauldron, one of SKC's largest supporters groups, seemed to get under Howard's skin. According to multiple reports from that end of the stadium, Howard made obscene gestures towards the fans behind his goal more than once.

The score remained 1-0 until the 58th minute. Colorado had trouble dealing with the counterattack all evening and this was no exception. Receiving the ball from a long clearance by the SKC defense, forward Dom Dwyer dribbled around three Rapids players before playing a good ball diagonally to midfielder Roger Espinoza. Espinoza held up the ball just long enough to let Fernandes get by him and played a perfectly weighted pass to the Bissau-Guinean forward, who beat Howard to the near post with his left foot to double the SKC lead.

In the 85th minute, Dwyer put the game to bed. In another counterattack the Rapids failed to deal with, Sporting had a series of one-timed balls leading to Sinovic's cross to an on-rushing Dwyer who blasted the ball past Howard for the team's third of the match and the first of the season for the Sporting forward.

In second half stoppage time, Sporting midfielder Soni Mustivar conceded a penalty by bringing Rapids midfielder Dominique Badji down in the area. Kevin Doyle stepped up and converted the penalty to provide the final 3-1 scoreline.

Taking a look at the final stats, it's clear why Sporting won the match. They won more than 52 percent of the duels, had better passing accuracy and controlled almost 58 percent of the possession for the match. Colorado also had a great deal of trouble dealing with the counterattack. As Steve Brisendine pointed out to me, the Rapids were a team that train at altitude and got run off the pitch. As good as the Rapids were last season, finishing second in the West behind Dallas, they are just as bad this season, currently in ninth place.

Up next for SKC, they will travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on the first place Portland Timbers on Saturday at 9:30 CT on FSKC.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Gulati: Fire Klinsmann Or You're Fired

After a rather uninspiring effort that saw the USMNT's winning streak against Mexico in World Cup qualifiers in Columbus come to an end, one might have thought Jurgen Klinsmann would have tried to light a fire under the team's butts for last night's match in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Unfortunately, that's what we get for thinking. If Klinsmann tried lighting a fire under his players, last night's disastrous result is just further proof that his matches are all wet.

In the worst shutout loss in a qualifier since 1957 (and the first loss in a home qualifier since 2001), the USMNT fell to Costa Rica 4-0. The sad part is that that scoreline made it seem closer than it was.

All you need to know about the state of the locker room for the USMNT can be found in this paragraph from Ives Galarcep's article on Goal.com that was posted Monday:

Klinsmann called out Bradley and Jermaine Jones for not playing well enough in the first half of Friday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico, blaming their struggles for the issues faced by the U.S. team’s surprising 3-4-3 formation. Bradley issued some not-so-subtle suggestions that the team didn’t have clear ideas about how to carry out the tactics of Klinsmann’s experimental formation.
That's right. Klinsmann throws two players under the bus, saying they didn't play well enough, but one of those players says they didn't know how to carry out the coach's plans. It would help things immensely if Klinsmann didn't feel the need to tinker with the lineup all the time, rather than just finding one that works and going with it.

I used all of those words to say the USSF needs to fire Klinsmann. Today.

As much as it pains me to say this as a proud American soccer fan, the Mexican national team takes results much more seriously than we do. Since Klinsmann was hired as the manager and technical director of the USMNT on July 28, 2011, El Tri is on their sixth coach. Juan Carlos Osorio, best known in this country for his disastrous tenure at the helm of the New York Red Bulls, is the current occupant of the job, but El Tri have a lot more talent than his team in NY did.

Speaking to reporters before Friday's match against Mexico, USSF President Sunil Gulati said, "We've never changed coaches in the [middle of the final round]. No one has started the process and not finished it since 1989 and I expect that to be the case here."

Since US Soccer has so far done nothing to suggest they will terminate Jurgen Klinsmann's contract, which runs through the 2018 World Cup, there's only one thing left to do. The United States Soccer Federation's board of directors must terminate the contract of Gulati.

With Klinsmann serving as both coach and technical director, he honestly answers to no one except Gulati. With all the votes of confidence Gulati has given Klinsmann, despite the unsatisfying nature of the team's results, Gulati's shown he has absolutely no interest in making a change.

I first wrote that I thought Gulati should be fired after the Confed Cup playoff loss to Mexico last October. The following list of people I would like to see succeed Gulati hasn't changed since then and is reproduced for your perusal here.

1. Mitt Romney

People who know me really well might be a bit surprised that I would suggest 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney should be given any job, much less a job running the American governing body of a sport I love, but I have a reason for it.

He's done it before. No, he hasn't been the president of the USSF before, but he has successfully run a large sports organization before.

On February 11, 1999, Romney was named president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2002. When he was given the job, the group was running hundreds of millions of dollars behind its revenue goals and there was talk of scaling back the games, possibly even moving them altogether.

We all know what happened next. The 2002 Winter Olympics were very successful and Romney can claim a share of the credit for it. Therefore, he's on this list.

2. Joe Biden

People who know me really well would be a lot less surprised I would suggest Vice President Joe Biden take over US Soccer. Honestly, there are a few reasons Biden is on this list. 

If it's one thing he's known for, Biden speaks his mind, even when it may not be the most appropriate time. You may recall, on March 23, 2010, right after introducing the president at the bill signing for the Affordable Care Act, Biden embraced President Obama and said, "This is a big [expletive] deal..."

He also strikes me as someone who hates to lose. Quite honestly, some of the results the USMNT have had in recent months, especially at the Gold Cup, would have driven him a little crazy, if he's anything like me when I watch games.

Biden is also very well-respected around the world. After Georgia's short, but disastrous war with Russia, then-Sen. Biden called the Georgian president to box his ears over the ill-advised stunt. As a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and now as Vice President, Biden's used to getting his calls answered in foreign capitals.

Biden is also out of a job on January 20, 2017, so he's available soon.

3. Mark Cuban

Every list like this usually has one or more names on it that make people say, "What?!" I'm well aware Mark Cuban would be one of those.

Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, would not be scared of the amount of money that would be required to terminate Klinsmann's contract. Quite honestly, he could probably write Klinsmann a check and be done with it.

Cuban is also, and I say this with all due respect, a very sore loser. I'm sure it would be fair to say that former NBA commissioner David Stern had Cuban on speed dial for those times when Cuban felt his team had been wronged by the league's referees. I'm sure Cuban treats his coaches the same way when they fail to perform.

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Honestly, it doesn't really matter to me who ends up succeeding Gulati. The important part right now is that whoever does, fires Jurgen Klinsmann. Because if Klinsmann is allowed to continue to run the USMNT into the ground, the streak of consecutive World Cups is in serious jeopardy. The USMNT is currently dead last in the Hex, behind Trinidad because of a goal differential of -5.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Thank You, Rangers, For A Magical Ride

Well, that certainly wasn't how I envisioned the season coming to an end. I was fully aware that NYRBII was the regular season champ and set league records for points, wins and goals, but attributed some of that to the fact the Eastern Conference was weaker than the West.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Red Bulls were just as strong as their numbers would suggest. While a couple of those goals were after the air had already been taken out of the Rangers balloon, it was still a 5-1 result for the home side and makes this a time to reflect on the season.

If I had to pick one moment where I had to pick up my jaw off the floor, it would have to be Dane Kelly's extra time game-winner against the Orange County Blues. To give you an idea of how impressive the feat was (not necessarily the goal, but winning down to nine and not having to go to penalties), I'll use a pair of lines from the movie Tombstone (still one of my favorites).

After the scene where Kurt Russell's Wyatt Earp kills Curly Bill Brocius (Powers Boothe) after wading into the creek, Sherman McMasters (Michael Rooker) says, "Have you ever seen anything like that before?" Turkey Creek Jack Johnson (Buck Taylor) replies, "I ain't even heard of anything like that before."

The heart that the team showed in that match, and really, in every match down the stretch, has been the most impressive thing about this run. The fact they never got negative or nasty, not even in June when they were in 13th place, shows they never gave up in their belief in themselves. With a master motivator in Marc Dos Santos, anything is possible.

There were a couple moments where I just couldn't help but smile, one in the regular season and one in the playoffs. The regular season one happened early on, probably in May (wish I'd written it down). After the first yellow card of the match, I said, "A yellow card caution has been to the referee...," instead of "...by the referee..." I knew the mic was on when I heard people outside the press box clapping. When Chris Wyche, EVP of Operations for SKC came up behind me in the press box, I turned and looked at him and he had the biggest turd eating grin on his face.

The one in the playoffs happened after the first round game with the Los Angeles Galaxy II (or "Los Dos"). After a rather hard-fought match, I was talking to a player on the field and he said, "I really hate those t***s!" It made me laugh because you never think of certain guys as saying things like that.

There have also been some moments that I classify "Only with the Rangers." For example, Mark Anthony Gonzalez's mom Marisa follows me on Twitter and Amer Didic's dad Jida is Facebook friends with me. There was also the time that Johnny Grant thanked me for waiting for him. All I wanted to do was give him a message from a mutual acquaintance. Those things wouldn't happen in a bigger club.

Now, not everything was positive. After all, the club was in 13th place in June before making a run up the table to finish fourth with a home playoff game. The moments that really broke my heart mostly dealt with injuries to players I liked. The first was Kevin Oliveira tearing his ACL in late June. Even after that, though, Kevin was still named to the USL's list of the 20 best players age 20 or younger. Ualefi blew out his knee during the playoff run and missed out on the conference final.

There are a couple people I would like to thank, individually, for their roles in this happening. The first would be Rangers GM Kurt Austin and Mr. Wyche. They were the people that gave me the opportunity for a dream job. While I had worked in radio (a long time ago), I had never worked as a public address announcer before (outside of one wrestling dual meet while I was in high school). They did what they could to make the process as painless as possible for me. I will be eternally grateful for the faith they put in me.

I would also like to thank Patrik Bergabo, Rangers Communications Manager and fellow Liverpool FC fan, for putting up with me. I didn't always make your job very easy (especially this week), but I appreciate you and your assistance before, during, and after games this season.

I would be remiss if I didn't also thank Marc Dos Santos, Rangers head coach this season. Marc was always warm and positive when I talked to him, win or lose. In fact, after one match, he said the loss was his fault as the subs had not been the right ones. I will miss seeing him around next season. He's already been announced as the head coach of the San Francisco Deltas, an NASL expansion side for 2017. It will be his third team in three years, but I can't blame him, really. He's an ambitious guy and I can't blame him for wanting to be the guy in charge and he can't do that in Kansas City with Peter Vermes around.

The 2016 season has come to an end and we'll have to wait until March for it to start again. If next year is anywhere near as good as this year has been, I can hardly wait for it to get here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sporting KC Give Up Late Equalizer; Drop Points at Home Again

If there's one thing that seems to be able to be counted on in the 2016 season for Sporting KC, it's probably their knack for giving up late goals. It's almost to the point where you can see them coming, really.

It happened again on Sunday afternoon, about fifteen minutes from time, and less than two minutes after the league's all-time leading scorer subbed into the match.

It's got to be frustrating for the players and coaches to constantly face questions about why they couldn't hold onto a lead late in a game.

It seems as if the team's luck has simply run out, or at least very low. A team that used to be able to get by with a few mistakes simply can't afford that luxury anymore. The slightest mistakes are now ruthlessly punished every single time.

The thing of it is, I'm not sure what can be done about it. I'm sure Peter Vermes could tell them to cut out the mistakes until he's blue in the face (and has) and mistakes would still happen because players are still human.

The more points the club drops at home, they have to make them up on the road, but their road form has been pretty poor. At 2-8-4, only San Jose and Portland have fewer road wins, while only Vancouver, Houston and Real Salt Lake have more road losses in the Western Conference.

I hate to say it, but the chances of this club making the playoffs are starting to look more remote than they did even a few weeks ago. That may not be the worst thing in the world for this club. The fans wouldn't like it, but it would allow the club to start to rebuild just that much quicker.

What it is, exactly, they need to do to make this club better for next season and beyond is probably a question for someone smarter than I am. I'm just the Rangers PA guy and I've watched a lot of soccer, as a fan and an official.

Whatever it is, though, will need to be done quickly as the game moves too fast to do anything less.