Sunday, December 28, 2014

Credentials Collection

Recently, I've been thinking about the collection of event credentials that I've been amassing over the last few years. I've got them arranged by year, attached to the same lanyard. I started going through them and thinking about some of the events that I've had the privilege to attend.

By year, here's that list:

2008: KC Wizards, NCAA Div. II national semifinal football
2009: KC Wizards
2011: Sporting KC, CONCACAF Gold Cup
2012: Sporting KC, CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying, USMNT World Cup Qualifying
2013: Sporting KC, MLS All-Star Game, MLS Cup, USMNT World Cup Qualifying
2014: Sporting KC, Big XII Tournament, NCAA Div. III national championships, Missouri Comets

Thanks to the access to those events, I've gotten to do some pretty cool things that I wouldn't have gotten to do otherwise, moments that have made it possible to get through some hard, dark times. What follows are just a few of those experiences.

During the 2011 season, I ended up being the guy that asked visiting coaches what they thought of the new stadium. Most of the time, I got the standard line about it being a great facility. There were two times I got something unexpected, both of them from Scottish coaches.

The first came from John Spencer, the then-coach of the Portland Timbers. I had a baseball cap on backwards and when I asked him the question, he looked at me and said, "Are you wearing a big hat or do you just have a really big head?" At the next home game, while I was getting ready to shoot that game from behind the end boards on the south end, one of the security supervisors came up to me and said, "Did he really say that to you?" The line has since taken on a life of its own.

The second came from Steve Nicol, the coach of the New England Revolution. I asked him the question and he looked at me and said, "I was fairly disappointed." He must have seen the incredulous look on my face when he said, "I was just kiddin'." After returning to the press box upstairs, I mentioned what Nicol had said to Kyle McCarthy, who covers the Revs on a regular basis, and he said that giving people crap was Steve Nicol's default position.

Lord only knows what Scottish-born Owen Coyle will say to me when Houston visits Sporting Park for the first time next season.

After the 2012 U.S. Open Cup final at Sporting Park, some of us were trying to get onto the field for the trophy presentation. Security was saying we couldn't, even though we had a memo from the team saying we could. While we were waiting, I felt someone put their hand on my back and say, "Excuse me." I turned around and it was actor Drew Carey, member of the Seattle Sounders ownership group.

I can't remember whether it was before, during or after, but on the day the USMNT practiced at Sporting Park before their qualifier with Guatemala in 2012, I was speaking with Grant Wahl, who happens to be from Overland Park. During our conversation, Taylor Twellman (who's from St. Louis) walked by and said, "Royals suck." I immediately turned and said, "Tell me something I don't know." The Royals have improved dramatically since then.

Just a few days before the 2013 MLS season started, I wrote an article on Bleacher Report under the headline Sporting KC Are Odds-on Favorites to Win 2013 MLS Cup. In the locker room after the cup final was over, I showed that article to goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and he hugged me (made all the more amazing because of his two broken ribs). I showed it to Kerry Zavagnin and he hugged me. I showed it to manager Peter Vermes and Peter said, "Any questions?"

During the week of the MLS All-Star game in 2013, I also got to ride in a race car around the Kansas Speedway. To show you how seriously they were taking it, I had to put on one of those fire suits and a helmet with one of those sock-like hoods underneath it. The cars would start out on pit row, go out to the end and take a hard left into the road course portion of the track, taking another hard left onto the back straightaway before coming all the way around again. On the back straightaway, I glanced over at the speedometer and it said we were up over 160 mph. Even on the road course portion, it was still about 100 mph. It was a great adrenaline rush.

I'm not writing this to try to make other people think I'm cool. I'm trying to make myself think that way.

There are more stories about cool moments I've had thanks to this journey I'm on to try to make myself a sportswriter, but I'll save them for another time.

Happy New Year, everybody.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Another Season Is In The Books...

Sporting Kansas City has completed its 19th season. It didn't finish in a way that most people would have wanted, least of all the team itself, but it's over. What I'm about to say may piss some people off.

And I don't care.

"If you can't support us when we lose or draw, don't support us when we win." -- Bill Shankly, Liverpool FC manager
 I don't mean that to say you can't criticize the club. I know I do, but there comes a point when some people are taking it way too far.

As an example, I saw someone tweet out the lineup for Thursday's match and, in place of players names, they used unflattering adjectives.

I think I know where it all comes from. As a fan base, Sporting KC fans are incredibly spoiled. The team's been incredibly successful over the past four years, making the playoffs each season since the name change and new stadium opened.

These same people, if they'd had their way, would not have had that same run of success, because manager Peter Vermes would have been fired less than 10 games into the 2011 season. You know, the season where, after Sporting Park opened, the club went from worst to first in the Eastern Conference.

I'm not here to stick up for Peter or the players. They're grown men and can stand up for themselves. What I am here to do is see if I can let a little air out of  some people's egos, make some people be a little more reasonable in their criticism of the club.

There are certain people who would tell you the number one thing the club needs for 2015 is a new goalkeeper. Seriously.

I love Jimmy Nielsen as much as anybody else (more for the personal interactions than anything else), but one thing the White Puma had going for him was a good, stable back line in front of him. It was the same four guys week in and week out.

The same can't be said for any of the men in goal in 2014. Losing two valuable members of that defense to season-ending injuries (Chance Myers and Ike Opara) and one to World Cup play and injuries at times (Matt Besler) is enough to hamper anybody.

And yet, from June 6th to August 1st, they didn't lose, going 6-0-2 in that stretch in league play. They also managed multiple Save of the Week awards, including Jon Kempin's two awards for his first two starts.

Thanks to injuries and national team call-ups, Peter Vermes didn't have the luxury of putting out a set lineup. Guys played out of position and played multiple matches in a row because the club had no choice.

I'm sure people remember the loss against Chicago, in Chicago, where Eric Palmer-Brown had to be the center of a three-man back line. Seventeen years old and called upon to do what some would have called the impossible. He was put in that position because he was all they had left.

Late in the season, some people were crabbing about the mental mistakes guys were making. Here's the thing. They were tired. Actually, not just tired, but exhausted. Several guys were asked to play tons more minutes than they ever had before, some before they were even ready to play a full 90 minutes at a time (Jorge Claros).

Now, guys in the locker room were trying to put a brave face on it, saying they just weren't playing well enough, but they were tired. You could see it in their faces and in the way they played. Thursday's match was the club's fourth in 12 days, including a round trip to San Jose, Costa Rica. I've done that trip and I had a week to rest in between flights.

The guys will now have a couple of months to rest, heal up, and get ready for next season, rather than the few weeks they had going into preseason for 2014. They will also have fewer matches to play in 2015, thanks to not qualifying for the next season of  CCL and not advancing to the quarterfinals in the current one.

Getting guys back from their season-ending injuries will be like getting new players, they've been gone so long. Knowing Matt Besler, he'll have guys working out here in town over the offseason to be ready for training camp in January.

Were there mistakes made? Absolutely. I think the team missed Oriol Rosell more than they thought they would, but hindsight is always 20/20.

Is the team perfect? No, they're human. Certain people seem to think they could have done better under the same circumstances. I'd like to see them try.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sporting KC Drops Final Home Game, Finishes 5th

Sporting KC can finally close the books on a very challenging and disappointing regular season. With their 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, they finish the 2014 campaign in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. It's their lowest finish since 2009, when they finished sixth on 33 points.

I know a lot of people are ragging on the team for not being sharp in their performances recently. What I would like to say to them is I'd like to see you do better under the same conditions. With as many injuries and matches as they've had to deal with over the last two seasons, it can't be easy.

I'm sure some of you are saying I should stop making excuses for the team's performance. I like to think of it as explanations more than excuses. Could they have done better? Sure. Did they? No, and here's why.

This team's had to deal with more injuries than I've seen from many teams in a very long time. Losing Chance Myers and Ike Opara to season-ending injuries, Peterson Joseph to a career-ending injury, and Matt Besler and Graham Zusi to a combination of injuries and national team duty isn't easy for anybody. Add to that the fact the team had a huge target on its back for being the defending league champions and it's a custom-made explanation for why the team didn't finish higher than they did.

To their credit, the players in the locker room are saying they are fine and they'll be ready to go on Thursday when they play the Red Bulls again in the play-in game, this time at Red Bull Arena. When told Peter Vermes was saying the guys were tired and that's why they didn't play as well as they could have, team captain Matt Besler put it down to the coach defending his players. Besler isn't satisfied and doesn't think his teammates should be either.

Either way, the club looks like they're exhausted. Guys having to play 90 minutes in unfamiliar positions because they simply have no other options seems to be the standard operating procedure for this club lately. You won't hear the guys complain about it. They'll put a brave face on it and tell you they're fine, but there's no other way to say it.

They're pooped. But as I heard one player say tonight, they could have gotten a couple extra days rest with a win and they didn't get it done.

Here's hoping they can make another run at a title. The road will just be a much harder one than 2013. And they know that.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Vermes: Results Stung, Proud of Effort

Normally, manager Peter Vermes doesn't speak to the players after a match. Maybe, he figures he's said everything he needed to say during the game, or at halftime.

Tonight, however, after a 3-2 loss at home to the New England Revolution, Vermes did address his players. During the postgame press conference, he said that he'd wanted to tell them that while the results stung, he was proud of the effort that they'd put in to the game.

Honestly, the team did put a lot of effort in in the first half, but didn't have a lot to show for it. They made a decent number of passes, but shots when wide or high (and not by a little bit). There were some close calls, but New England did too. They just stuck theirs in the back of the net.

There's not a whole lot I can say about this game, if only because I was so disappointed they gave up the game-winner with about five minutes to play.

I've been trying to divest myself, emotionally anyway, from the club so that I could remain at least somewhat sane after losses. It's not really working, but I'm going to keep trying.

Next week, the club makes a trip I wish I could take with them. They're going to play D.C. United on Friday of next week, but they'll be leaving a couple days early. They will be honored at the White House by President Obama for their 2013 MLS Cup title. Here's hoping the White House puts video of the event up on their website.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What Can You Really Say?

I've seen a lot of bad matches in my time watching the Wizards/Sporting KC, but tonight's blowout loss to DC United has to be one of the worst. The 3-0 loss rivals the loss of the same score to Columbus on June 14, 2008.

Both had bad omens before they even started. Before the 2008 game, I saw Jeanne Patterson, wife of owner Neal Patterson, wearing a yellow dress. That might not sound like much, but considering the club was playing Columbus, it's never a good idea to wear the other team's colors.

Tonight's bad omen came from the pregame fireworks. On two different volleys, a shell didn't operate as planned and actually shot flares into the Cauldron. Nobody seemed to get hurt by it, but it set the tone for what was to come.

The first half of the first half was fairly uneventful. In fact, most of what we were discussing in the press box had to do with the short shorts that Benny Feilhaber was wearing.

However, that all changed fairly quickly. Starting in the 24th minute, DC United scored three goals in approximately eight minutes.

That's right. One of the better defenses in MLS, allowed an opponent to score three times in less than 10 minutes.

Is it any wonder that the crowd released some boos as the players went off the field for halftime?

Is it any wonder that they began leaving in the 75th minute?

If you need someone to envy, I wouldn't pick anyone who plays for Sporting KC this week. If I know Peter Vermes, the training facility is not going to be a pleasant place to be. I almost feel sorry for the Houston Dynamo, Sporting KC's next opponent.

Sporting KC is going to need someone to take a week's worth of frustration out on, and Houston will just happen to be in the way.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Open Letter to Robin Williams

I know this is a soccer blog, but if you'll indulge me for a few minutes, I need to get this out of my system.

Dear Robin,

I know it's rather presumptuous of me to refer to you by your first name, but you've spent so much time in my home, it's as if I've known you for years, decades even.

I'm struggling with the news of your death. It's like I've lost a member of my family. You were always that crazy uncle that we loved spending time with, because you could always make us laugh.

When I first heard the news, one of the first things I did, besides trying not to cry while I was at work, was call you a selfish bastard. I want to apologize for that. Out of everyone I know, I should know that suicide is not a selfish act, but one of ultimate desperation. I'm sorry.

I say that I should know because I've been in that deep, dark hole you found yourself in. I know how hard it is to summon up the will to keep going in the face of the soul-crushing pain that depression can bring us. I haven't told a lot of people this, but my first serious thoughts about suicide were when I was seven. Yes, seven years old.

One of the thoughts I had yesterday was that if depression can take down the funniest man on the planet, what chance do I have? I only wish that you had known how many millions of people you'd never met loved you like I do. I know the love and support I've gotten from family and friends is sometimes one of the few things that's kept me from succumbing to the dark side.

One of the other things that kept me from losing my battle with depression was you. Yes, you. Whenever I'd be feeling particularly down, I'd watch something you'd done. Whether it was "The Birdcage," "Good Morning, Vietnam" or your appearance on "Inside the Actor's Studio," it was usually enough to get me to smile and laugh again and you would pull me back from the brink.

One of Mr. Tipton's questions at the end is something I'm trying to draw some comfort from. When he asked you what you wanted to hear when you got to the Pearly Gates, you said you just wanted to know there was laughter in Heaven.

If there wasn't before, there is now, my friend. I hope you've found the peace that so eluded you here on Earth. Maybe, someday, I'll get to meet you in Heaven. I just hope that it's not for a few decades.

With much love,
Alan H.

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Suicide is no joke. Please, if you are considering ending your life, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Your call is confidential and will be answered by a trained counselor in a local call center.

You matter.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sporting Legends Add 3 Members

At halftime of tonight's Sporting Kansas City game against Philadelphia, the club added three members to the Sporting Legends. Founder Lamar Hunt, manager Peter Vermes and defender Jimmy Conrad joined the club's Hall of Fame.

Clark Hunt, representing his father at the ceremony, spoke to reporters before the game. He said his father would be very proud of what the game has become in Kansas City. Clark also said his father would have been incredibly proud of how well the US Men's National Team performed at the 2014 World Cup.

Conrad, who also served as team captain during his eight seasons in Kansas City, was just as goofy as you might have thought he would be. When I asked him how he felt being inducted with Lamar and Peter, he said it was almost like you could say, "One of these things is not like the other..."

Conrad also said he's only 37 and he thought he should have been in his fifties, maybe even complaining about it in the press before he was inducted.

Maybe it's just me, but I think Jimmy's induction is well deserved and he more than earned it from not only his time here, but also his play for the Stars and Stripes.

Conrad played an important part in the club's 2004 season. I think it's fair to say that if Conrad had not been part of the club that season, the club might not have won the US Open Cup or reached the MLS Cup final against DC United.

I'm sure it's possible that I'm coloring my perceptions of Conrad's time here with the fact that he's a great guy off the pitch. He has always been pleasant to deal with when I've seen him since he retired, at the 2013 MLS All-Star Game, for example. He remembers my name and I get the impression that he's genuinely happy to see me.

It's that perception, though, that helps support something I've said about this club for a very long time. Sporting KC is full of good players who are even better people. I think that's one of the tests Peter Vermes uses when trying to decide on whether or not to bring a player in. How will they fit with the rest of the group? The new guy has to adjust to the group, not the other way around.

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The club's in for a very busy week. Matt Besler and Graham Zusi will be gone from training all week, as they're off to the All-Star Game in Portland and will join the team in Vancouver prior to the team's match with the Whitecaps on Sunday. Jon Kempin and Erik Palmer-Brown will also be in Portland as they will play in the Homegrown Game on Monday.

Hope the team's road form continues so the club can run its unbeaten streak to nine matches.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sporting KC, US Soccer to Build National Training Center in KCK.

Prior to tonight's friendly with Manchester City, Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman was joined by Governor Sam Brownback, Mayor Mark Holland of the Unified Government (Kansas City, KS, and Wyandotte County), EPR Properties David Brain and Schlitterbahn CEO Mark Henry for a major announcement, one that could affect the growth of the game, not just in Kansas City, but in the United States as a whole.

Heineman formally announced the construction of a U.S. Soccer National Training Center complex in Kansas City, KS. The $75 million facility will include 100,000 square feet for a state of the art indoor facility with a practice field, eight lighted professional smart fields, and eight youth fields.

That's pretty cool, right? It's much better than that. The complex will also house a climate-controlled indoor pavilion and specialized areas for strength and nutrition, sports science, health and wellness, hydration as well as video and analytics. For the players, coaches and referees coming to the facility for training, there will also be a 125-room hotel.

In a statement, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said, "Playing and coaching development is a main focus for U.S. Soccer, and we are pleased that Sporting Club is pursuing a world-class training facility to help the sport continue to grow and advance." He added the federation is looking forward to working with the club on the creation of the center. Gulati anticipates it will host the national teams and coaching education programming in the future.

Heineman said that this project is part of the club's overall vision and strategy for helping the United States win the World Cup. The club's pursuit of the complex is not completely altruistic, though. While one of the goals is helping the country find success on the world stage, this center will also help the club as it tries to build a dynasty and separate itself from the rest of the pack in MLS.

Heineman also said that one of the reasons to build the facility here is to give kids something to aspire to. They'll be able to see the national team train and play here and it will give them a goal to chase. It certainly doesn't hurt there are two Sporting KC players on the national team at the moment.

Heineman anticipates the STAR bonds approval process to take approximately 90 days and doesn't foresee any problems. The state government has been aware of the project for the last 14-16 months and Governor Brownback said no legislative action would be necessary. Mayor Holland said the development agreement would be vetted by the county commission and voted on.

The main reason no one anticipates any problems? The center is projected to have an economic impact on the area to the tune of $1 billion. That's right, billion with a "b." Tournaments can be held on the fields at the complex, which will help hotels and restaurants and the complex will also provide lots of jobs.

This was a pretty epic day in a pretty epic month for soccer in Kansas City. People like Alexi Lalas and MLS's Dan Courtemanche were tweeting things like the city is strengthening their hold on their soccer-capital status. It's a fun time to be a soccer fan in Kansas City.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sporting KC Defeat LA, Retain Besler and Zusi

With a special 5pm kickoff, Sporting Kansas City looked to continue their winning ways against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Sporting Park.

Early on, it looked like it would be a rout. In the 10th minute, Sporting KC was given a free kick just outside of the penalty area, in what we in the press box are starting to call "The Benny Zone." Feilhaber took the ball up and over the wall and in the upper 90 on the near post. Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo didn't have much of a chance.

The pressure continued and the Galaxy didn't pick up their first good opportunity until the 25th minute and finished the opening 45 minutes with only 2 shots, neither of which was on target.

In the postgame press conference, manager Bruce Arena said the team had played poorly in the first half, but the Galaxy had a majority of the possession in the opening stanza and completed 82.5 percent of their passes. They also won 57.1 percent of the duels in the first half.

The second half was better for the Galaxy, but Sporting KC still managed to double their lead. In the 61st minute, Graham Zusi was taking a corner kick to the right of Penedo's goal. Zusi's in-swinger looked like it was intended for Aurelien Collin on the back post.

Penedo managed to get to it first and punched it out. Collin chased it down and crossed it back across the goal. Jacob Peterson went up to head it and Penedo got his hands to it. The ball then fell to Lawrence Olum, who headed it into the net.

Sporting KC then seemed to struggle to hold on to the lead. They gave up a goal to Robbie Keane in the 79th minute that appeared to have been a little offside, but the club managed to close the game out and collect all three points from a hungry Galaxy side.

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The big news of the day, though, broke about an hour before the game. Defender Matt Besler and midfielder/forward Graham Zusi signed long-term contracts and are the club's newest Designated Players.

In a statement, Besler said, "This is a dream come true to know that I'll be playing my whole career in Kansas City. A lot of factors went into this decision, but the ownership and the great fans played a huge part. Now, there is a responsibility to go forward to keep pushing this team farther and farther."

After the announcement was made, there were several people on social media who said Besler and Zusi staying in Kansas City was bad for the USMNT. Club president and CEO Robb Heineman addressed those comments after the postgame press conference.

"I've seen a lot of stuff on social media around – 'Oh, you know, this is not a good decision for the guys from a national team perspective' – and to me, that's complete BS," Heineman said. "This is one of the best clubs in the world from a development perspective, the opportunity and the tools that are available here, including Peter and the way he trains these guys, is world-class. So any reference or thought that it's not a first-class opportunity for these guys to be here, to me, is just complete crap."

Maybe it's just me, but you have to like a team executive wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops and drinking a beer during the interview. One reason so many fans love Robb: He's very much like them.

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Before the game, Sporting KC had a military family out at midfield and played them a message from their son who was sorry that he couldn't be there right then. When they announced the video, I started looking around for someone wearing fatigues and found him before they did.

After that, I started looking for the bastard who was chopping onions. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
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Up next for the club is a midweek friendly with reigning BPL champions Manchester City. The kickoff is scheduled for 8:00.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Life In The Minors

With Sporting KC on the road in Montreal, and needing to get the heck out of Dodge for 24 hours, I decided to make a quick trip down to Oklahoma City and take in an Energy FC game.

I also wanted to see Jimmy Nielsen again. I hadn't seen him since the day he retired back in December.

If there's one thing that hasn't changed about The White Puma, it's definitely his passion for the game. There were a few questionable "no calls" in the first half and I could see Jimmy's face flushing red when he was screaming at the officials.

One thing I saw him do, though, that you'd never see Peter Vermes do, was put his arm around the fourth official with a smile on his face. If Peter ever put his hands on an official, you could be sure the words coming out of his mouth would be in Hungarian.

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In his first game for the club, midfielder Jimmy Medranda made the start and played about 55 minutes. He was very good on the ball and seemed to be very creative. He also showed the high work rate that I'd seen from him while he was with Sporting KC. From what I've been told, he's come down here with a good attitude and wants to show Jimmy Nielsen and, by extension, Peter Vermes what he can do.

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Adda Djeziri, formerly of League Two's Scunthorpe United, had a very good game as well. He assisted on both of OKC's goals.

Djeziri's inch perfect corner kick found the head of former Sporting KC midfielder Michael Thomas on the back post in the fifth minute.

Djeziri's second assist came on a good pass in the penalty area to Dan Delgado, who faked out the keeper and put it in the empty net.

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Despite the slow start, OKC's seven match unbeaten streak (4-0-3) has now elevated the club to a tie for sixth place in USL Pro with Orange County Blues FC.

 3,619 fans showed up to watch the match and I heard some familiar chants from the supporters section, including "Wings of a Sparrow" and "Who's Your Daddy?" I suppose it's appropriate, considering the club's affiliation with Sporting KC.

The only truly "minor league" thing about the game was the "trash can pong" game that was played at halftime. It went on way too long and had my two compatriots in the press box asking for the return of "bubble soccer."

Other than that, it was a truly enjoyable evening watching the game that I love.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Thoughts On Sporting KC v. Chicago 7/6/14

Sporting Kansas City extended their unbeaten streak to three matches with a 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire at Sporting Park on Sunday afternoon.

The match saw the return of USMNT midfielder Graham Zusi to the 18, while defender Matt Besler was held out.

One thing I hope doesn't come back to bite the team in the butt was a silly yellow card shown to forward Dom Dwyer after his goal in the 33rd minute. After slotting the ball past goalkeeper Sean Johnson, Dwyer ran over to a photographer, grabbed his phone and took a selfie with teammate Soony Saad. The halftime stat sheet said the card was for excessive celebration. The weird thing about that was the full-time sheet said, "not visible."

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How dominant was Sporting KC in the 2nd half? They controlled almost 80 percent of the possession in the 2nd 45 minute period (78.6, to be exact).

It didn't hurt that Chicago's passing accuracy fell through the floor after halftime. Before halftime, the Fire completed a respectable 75.8 percent of their passes. After the intermission, that rate dropped to an abysmal 45.8. Chicago manager Frank Yallop can't have been pleased with that, even though he did say the team had played well after the game.

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The Chicago Fire were credited with four shots on target, but Eric Kronberg was not credited with a single save. You might be thinking, if you didn't watch the game, "But Alan, the Fire only scored once."

True, the Fire only scored once, but Dwyer cleared one ball of the line and Aurelien Collin cleared two more. Never hurts to have a Johnny-On-The-Spot right when you need it.

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The next home game brings Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy to Sporting Park. Considering some of the chants the Cauldron has done in the past, it would not shock me to hear the Cauldron call Donovan a "Klinsmann Reject."

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Next up on the schedule, though, is a trip to Montreal on Saturday to face the Impact. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 CDT and will be shown on KMCI-TV and SKC-TV.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sporting Throw Away Their Best Chance For Silverware

I've seen some bad Wizards/Sporting KC performances. June 14, 2008 comes to mind. If that date doesn't ring a bell, it was a 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew at CAB and they looked relatively putrid.

I'm not saying this game was that bad, but it wasn't great. As Peter Vermes said in the postgame press conference, they weren't hard enough to play against defensively. They gave the ball away too easily, were susceptible to the counter attack and just didn't play well at all.

When he was asked about Dom Dwyer's goal, being his third in three games in all competitions, Vermes said he didn't really care about the goal. It was the result that mattered. Dwyer said pretty much the same thing in the locker room. He said he wasn't really thinking about the goal, considering the way the match played out.

While this team gets a chance at immediate payback in Portland three days from now, I'm not sure they can get it. While they have the talent, I'm not sure they have the urgency. While part of me is kind of greedy for the USMNT to play as long as they can in the World Cup, this team needs Matt Besler and Graham Zusi back as soon as possible.

The next game I'm even concerned about is the next home game against Chicago on July 6. It's a holiday weekend and kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 in the afternoon. If that doesn't give this team some urgency, I don't know what will.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sporting KC Defeat MN United 2-0, Advance To Play Portland

To be honest, the first half of the U.S. Open Cup fourth round match-up between Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United FC wasn't very good at all. The fact the jerseys for both teams were fairly similar didn't help. Sporting KC changed to their training kits at halftime because Peter Vermes said the players were having trouble with passing to the wrong people, or just finding their own teammates.

The second half was much better. The entry of Alex Martinez for the hosts was a lift, both in terms of energy and the quality of possession. The 50th minute red card shown to defender Cristiano Dias for an aerial collision with Dom Dwyer didn't hurt either, although both coaches disagreed on what color the card should have been.

MN United coach Manny Lagos said after the game that the red card had "ruined a good night of soccer." He said that both teams were playing well, but the ref had changed the game. Lagos said that while there was a player down on the pitch, the ref didn't check to see how Dwyer was, but just went straight for the red card. He also said that Dwyer was back on the pitch five seconds later. He said that he thought it was a yellow card, but not a red.

Vermes, on the other hand, thought it was a reckless challenge and deserved the red card. He said they've seen a lot of different kinds of red cards in league play and he thought the play deserved the ejection. Vermes also said he thought there could have been one earlier in the match on a play in the penalty area that Dwyer ended up on the ground but there wasn't even a foul called.

Sporting's victory turns next week into a virtual home-and-home series with the Portland Timbers, who advanced with their victory over the Orlando City U-23s yesterday. The two teams will clash at Sporting Park in the U.S. Open Cup's fifth round on Tuesday, June 24, before traveling to face each other again in league play in Portland on Friday, June 27.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

That Was Better, But...

While the final score of the Sporting Kansas City-NY Red Bulls match was 1-1, it could very easily have been 5-1 or 6-1. With the flurry of chances Sporting KC had in the first 10 minutes, they should have gotten more than one.

In the 2nd minute, defender Igor Julião got in behind the NYRB defense and had chipped it over goalkeeper Luis Robles, but defender Chris Duvall cleared it off the line. Two minutes later, Sal Zizzo's shot was also cleared off the line, this time by Ibrahim Sekagya. More on him later.

You don't get much closer to scoring without actually scoring than Benny Feilhaber did in the fifth minute. Feilhaber's rocket hit the crossbar and came down, but not quite over the line. It's truly a game of inches, considering that if Feilhaber's shot would have been two inches lower, it goes in.

It wasn't until the ninth minute when Toni Dovale put the ball in the back of the net that the efforts bore fruit. They would, unfortunately, be made to rue the missed chances.

In the 50th minute, Thierry Henry put a ball through to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who regained the league lead in goals with his 11th tally. The crowd thought Wright-Phillips was offside, but he'd been held onside by Julião.

Overall, it was a good effort by Sporting KC. It seems to me that once Lawrence Olum, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi return from national team duty and Uri Rosell comes back from injury, this team could be scary good come November. And they will be playing in November.

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In approximately the 73rd minute, Sekagya simply fell down in the NYRB penalty area. Just dropped like he'd been shot. He laid there for a while, absorbing the boos of the crowd. He tried getting up, but then laid back down, drawing more boos and forcing the stretcher to be brought out.

While Sekagya was being carried off the field, NYRB head coach Mike Petke decided to bring on a substitute for his defender. When the sub was announced, Sekagya was "miraculously healed" and got up off the stretcher and walked back to the bench. It led Steve Brisendine of MLSSoccer.com to tweet that faith healer Benny Hinn must be the NY trainer. That was funny.


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In the locker room after the game, the team gave Dovale the ball he scored his goal with. He kept saying, "For me?" He was genuinely touched that they would do that for him. He was told to bring it to training so his teammates could sign it for him. I thought that was a nice touch.


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Sporting KC invited fans to watch the USMNT friendly with Azerbaijan on the pitch after the match. A few hundred people took them up on it. It just seemed to me that it was more evidence of Kansas City's claim to the title of Soccer Capital of America.

During halftime, ESPN showed a short clip of the fans watching the game and that got a good cheer from the crowd.


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Next up for the club is a trip to the nation's capital for a match with DC United. Kickoff is set for 6:00 CDT and will be shown on KMCI-TV (ch. 38).

Friday, May 23, 2014

And Then There Were None...

Maybe it's just me, but if Peter Vermes were to come to me to play center back for this team, I'd probably run the other direction.

It's not just that I'm an overweight 43-year-old, which I am, but considering all the injury problems this team is having with the center back position, I don't want any part of it.

Those problems continued tonight when Chance Myers went down late in the first half against Toronto. The early word is that it's a left Achilles' injury and Myers will have an MRI in the next day or two to see how bad the injury is.

All that said, with the patchwork quilt quality to the lineups that Vermes is having to use, it's still impressive they were in a position to win the match entering stoppage time. Unfortunately, this team has now given up five goals in second half stoppage time this season, which leads the league.

Not only were they up a goal, but they were up a man after Steven Caldwell's 63rd minute red card for his foul on Toni. Caldwell went into Toni with his studs up, connecting with Toni's groin. Referee Baldomero Toledo did not hesitate in dismissing the Toronto skipper.

Sporting KC was up 1-0 at the time, but quickly gave up the equalizer.

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Dom Dwyer took over the league lead in goals with his ninth and 10th tallies of 2014. He is also the third person in franchise history to score in four consecutive matches. Dwyer's scored six goals in that span.

Dwyer is tied with Eddie Johnson (2007) for 2nd-longest such streak. The club record is held by Preki, set in the club's inaugural season in 1996.

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Former Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen received his MLS Cup championship ring on the field before the game. He received a loud roar from the sellout crowd at Sporting Park.

It was loud enough that I had a little trouble hearing PA announcer Eric Danielson. That's loud.

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And in the weird moment of the match, when Igor Julião was down on the pitch in the first half, he yakked on the grass. It was obvious that's what it was because it appeared to be bright orange from up here in the press box. Lots of people commented on it and it came close to getting stepped in. Ball almost rolled through it once.

They waited until halftime to actually clean it up, though.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Thoughts on Today's Game (pre-game)

With everything that's happened lately, I'm sure Peter Vermes has gone from "Who do I pick for the back line?" to "Who CAN I pick for the back line?"

With Matt Besler and Lawrence Olum unavailable through national team duty and with Aurelien Collin and Ike Opara out injured, Vermes is left with little to choose from.

Depending on whether or not Uri Rosell is available (Vermes called him a "game time decision" on Friday), we may see Eric Palmer-Brown make his MLS debut at the tender age of 17.

What impresses me about EPB is how well put together he is at his age. Here is a kid not even old enough to vote who may get a start for the defending MLS champions.

And yet, he seems to me to be very calm, mature beyond his years, and quietly self-confident. Vermes told us (Steve Brisendine, Sam McDowell and myself) on Friday, he's seen EPB play since he was nine years old, trying out for the team's academy.

Consider this: Juventus of Italy's Serie A offered the club $1.5 million for (at the time) a 16-year-old kid who has yet to play in an MLS match. That has to tell you something about his talent level.

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Olum's call-up to the Kenyan national team provided its own problems. The Kenyan FA didn't request Olum's release until this past week for games on Sunday and May 30.

Vermes said the team could have prepared differently had they known they would be without Olum's services. He also called the Kenyan FA "unprofessional" for the way the situation was handled.

I don't think Vermes is upset with Olum for wanting to go represent his country, but I do think he's upset with the Kenyan FA because of the timing of their request, in addition to the other problems the club's having with depth at central defender.

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And I must say that I'm more than a little jealous of the more than 450 Sporting KC fans that have traveled to Chicago to see today's game at Toyota Park.

It's been a while since I've been on a road trip with the team, so I haven't been in a group quite that large going into "enemy territory."

Travel safe and have fun.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Not a Good Sendoff at All.

I have seen a lot of poor performances in my time at Wizards/Sporting KC matches, but I would have to say tonight's match with Philadelphia was one of the worst.

I think it was summed up best by defender and team captain Matt Besler, who said, "We played like crap."

He's right. The team seemed to lack any sense of urgency, or focus, come to think of it. After all, how do you score a wonder strike like Dom Dwyer's one minute and then give up a goal the next. Literally.

Given the depth of the centerback position for this team, or the lack thereof, Sporting KC fans are likely to be concerned with the 61st minute substitution of Aurelien Collin. In the locker room after the match, Collin said he may be out for two weeks. With Besler leaving for the USMNT training camp, that doesn't leave much cover for one of the most important positions on the field, in my not so humble opinion.

In addition to missing Besler for possibly the next six matches, Graham Zusi is also headed for Stanford, CA, for training camp. Zusi had some moments of brilliance tonight, but not enough to outweigh the absolute lack of desire from the rest of the team.

That's not to say there weren't any bright spots. Brazilian teenager Igor Julião made the start at right back and went the full 90 minutes, becoming the youngest player in franchise history to do so in a league match. Since being acquired on April 4th, on loan from Fluminense FC (Brazil), he has done enough to impress Peter Vermes and earn a starting place with the defending MLS champions. I like what I saw from him and I'm looking forward to see what he can do as the season progresses.

Writing after a loss, especially a lethargic performance like this one, is not easy. The easy thing to do is simply go home, possibly stopping off for a pint on the way. Maybe this is my way of trying to divest myself emotionally from this team. Do I want the team to win? Sure, but I also don't want to take the losses as personally as I used to before I started obtaining media credentials and sitting in the press box. Removing a source of stress is never a bad idea.

Up next for the club is a match Sunday afternoon at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL, to take on the Chicago Fire. Kickoff is set for 2:00 pm CT and the match will air on KMCI-TV locally and nationally on UniMas, in Spanish.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sporting to Columbus: May the Fourth (Place) Be With You.

The day couldn't have been much better. The sun was out and the weather was warm. The coaches and players were presented their rings by a group of specially selected fans. The stands were full and the visitor's net was empty.

Sporting Kansas City celebrated their 2013 MLS Cup title before today's game with the Columbus Crew. About an hour before kickoff, players and coaches received their rings. Billed on the video board as the largest ring in MLS history, it had diamonds galore, including in the club's shield on top. As each player or coach's name was called, a fan came up with their ring in a nice wooden box, which actually had a light inside when the lid was open.

As for the game, Sporting KC likes to play Columbus. They are unbeaten in their last seven against the Crew (6-0-1), and have scored a first half goal in their last eight matches the yellow soccer team.

It didn't take long to get on the board. Jacob Peterson, with the rare start, was in the right place at the right time and put a rebound in the back of the net. It was unassisted, but Nagamura's shot created the opportunity.

The play of the game for me was actually made by goalkeeper Eric Kronberg. Columbus midfielder Will Trapp played the ball into Bernardo Anor from just outside the penalty area on the right. Anor jumped and snapped a powerful header almost directly at Kronberg's feet. Kronberg dropped almost on top of the ball and got an arm down to keep the ball out and Oriol Rossell cleared the rebound. It was a Save of the Week candidate.

Claudio Bieler tapped in a goal in stoppage time in the 2nd half to complete the 2-0 scoreline. It put the icing on a victory that seemed to be a foregone conclusion, at least to me, when Trapp picked up his second yellow card in the 80th minute for a foul on Benny Feilhaber. To make matters worse for Columbus, the ref could have handed out a second red for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, but played the advantage, which resulted in the Bieler goal.

Next up for Sporting KC is a match on Saturday, May 10, in Montreal against the Impact.

By the way, the idea for the headline on today's post came from MLSSoccer.com beat writer Steve Brisendine. Told me he couldn't use it, but I couldn't pass it up. Thanks, Steve.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sporting KC Destroys Montreal Impact 4-0.

For the first 70 minutes of tonight's Sporting Kansas City match with the Montreal Impact, it seemed like the home side was content to let Montreal do their scoring for them. While Aurelien Collin celebrated the tally in the 31st minute, it was actually an own goal off the head of midfielder Calum Mallace.

That changed in the 71st minute when Collin got to celebrate a goal he did score, a real turf-burner that sneaked past Perkins to double Sporting KC's lead.

Three minutes later, Dom Dwyer nets the third. Jacob Peterson put a low cross in from the right wing that Collin said in the locker room he made a dummy run on before Dwyer popped it in. Personally, I think he messed up the backheel, but I'll give the MLS Cup MVP the benefit of the doubt.

Then three minutes from full time, Dwyer topped off the scoring. Graham Zusi played in an inch-perfect cross to Dwyer in the penalty area. All Dwyer had to do was make contact to get the ball to go in, made more impressive by the fact that he was airborne and falling away from the ball.

It was good to see the effort Sporting KC put in tonight. The game seemed to get off to a sluggish start, and it seemed like Sporting KC was knocking the rust off after not playing for two weeks, but after some halftime adjustments, it seemed like they were firing on all cylinders. When you end up with more than sixty percent of the possession, you probably did something right.

Next up for the club is a road match in the cavernous Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Revolution. It will mark the first match for Teal Bunbury against his old club following the offseason trade. Kickoff is set for 6:30 CDT.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Life's Not Fair

Whoever said life was fair surely didn't watch Sporting Kansas City play Real Salt Lake tonight in a rematch of the 2013 MLS Cup final.

If life was fair, Sporting KC would have scored at least three goals. They should have had at least two, but one was cleared off the line in the first half and Jeff Attinella made a spectacular save to deny Benny Feilhaber a Goal of the Week nomination. In fact, if Attinella does not get Save of the Week, there's something wrong with the whole process.

Sporting KC out-shot RSL 20-5, with nine of their efforts actually on frame. Attinella saved eight of those, the other having been cleared off the line by Nat Borchers.

There seems to be something about the visiting team's locker room that turns the opposing goalkeeper into Superman. This is just the latest example. But as Peter Vermes said in the postgame press conference, teams have to bring their "A game" to come play this club.

RSL also wasn't able to take advantage of an 83rd minute red card to Sporting KC midfielder Oriol Rossell. Sporting KC's possession percentage dropped, but they still managed to keep more than half of the ball. One factor in that would be Sporting KC's passing accuracy, 82.3 percent in the second half.

Sporting KC played well, despite what some fans seem to think, one even saying Graham Zusi's been poor all season. Really? He was voted Player of the Week for his performance against Colorado, with a goal and two assists. Some people are just dumb and I can't help that.

The club has next weekend off before returning to Sporting Park to play the Montreal Impact on April 19th at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I Have A Blog? Really?

Wow, almost two years since I wrote something here. Almost forgot this thing existed, really.

I'm sitting here in the press box at Sporting Park after the club's first league win of the season. The decisive tally came on Dom Dwyer's penalty kick goal in the 57th minute. It was the first goal from a forward or winger in 564 minutes, more than nine hours. How long had it been since a forward scored a goal? If you can believe it, it was the 63rd minute of the second leg of the Eastern Conference final against Houston, with Dwyer also getting the tally that night.

The match also marked the first the club has played since MLS and the referees' union finalized a new collective bargaining agreement. While tonight's "man in the middle" Ricardo Salazar had some Sporting fans remembering his call in the penalty shootout of the US Open Cup final in 2012 that Michael Gspurning was off his line, thus allowing Paulo Nagamura another try, it was not a great performance.

Firstly, there should have been a penalty kick in the first half. Sal Zizzo was taken down in the penalty area, but there was no foul given.

Secondly, his caution of Nagamura in the 81st minute for simulation was incorrectly given. Nagamura did make contact with a San Jose defender, but Salazar was behind the play.

Finally, in the 83rd minute, Salazar's caution of goalkeeper Eric Kronberg for time-wasting was a bit harsh. In the locker room after the game, Kronberg said he'd been talking with Aurelien Collin about something and may have lost track of time, but Salazar did not warn him before pulling the yellow.

However, the fact remains that Sporting KC picked up their first win in league play in 2014 and have now finished the brutal start to the season that saw them play five games in 15 days. They will now have a full week until they travel to Denver to take on the Colorado Rapids. Kickoff is set for 5:00 CDT on Saturday, March 29.

Maybe I'll get more into writing here. It's not so hard as I remember it.

Update: edited to reflect correct name of player taken down in the box in the first half.