After feeling the heat earlier in the season, Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes is a MLS Coach of the Year candidate.(Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
Prior to last night’s 1st leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes emphasized the first 45 minutes of play with the following quote; "The idea is that we just want to make sure that we come in at halftime even or ahead. We’ll make adjustments from there"
To most, what they heard was that Sporting KC was looking to play for the draw and get it done in Leg 2 on Wednesday night at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, meaning they would see a complete opposite looking team that is known for always being on the attack. The guy who all the "experts" wanted fired earlier in the year might be a little smarter than those same people gave him credit for.
Do you honestly think that he didn’t know going into this game that Colorado have scored only 6 goals in the last 12 games? If you were looking for the dull "pack-it-in" style of play one assumes to see when playing for a draw, it would have been hard to find. From a tactical stand point the only differences were a mix of a little here and a little there. Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic played higher than normal. C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara (although it said 4-3-3) played deeper and more tucked in, essentially playing in the midfield. Dropping them back, and pushing Chance and Sinovic up the flanks minimized the chances that there would be a huge gap for Colorado to use to their advantage of more possession and assuring that when Sporting would win a turnover they wouldn’t be pinned in their defensive third.
It also allows that when possession turned over to Sporting KC, they could easily get into their style of play, not relying solely on the counter, which is what one does when playing for a draw. Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza stayed the same, as did Aurelien Collin and the two players Vermes counted on to make the first 45 min stable, Matt Besler and Julio Cesar.
Colorado usually avoids the midfield anyway. They just bang balls into the linebackers they call forwards. Bunbury, essentially the lone striker’s high pressure, the higher defense, and with the space in the middle thinner than Denver’s air, Colorado was forced to "try" and play out of the back, which played into our hands of what we normally do, relentless pressure in the midfield.
The first goal couldn't be any clearer as to everything I've previously mentioned. Notice the back line and the midfield in line... in unison like a marching band, and notice the lack of space between them. Colorado tried to play out of the back and Sporting KC's relentless pressure in the midfield turned into the game winner.
Were their times when Kamara and Sapong got the ball deeper than usual? Yes, and Sporting KC were also pinned back a few times as well, but had the presence of mind to play "safety first" in those rare times. High, wide and, long. And that’s ultimately what Vermes meant. This wasn’t a one-off game, and he needed his team to be smart and safe; common sense!
With all that said, the game was over when Bunburry gave Drew Moor the old "forearm shiver". The thinner than normal Denver air was literally sucked out of that stadium when yet another player went down. They knew it, we knew it, game over. The energy from the crowd was gone from then on.
What I love most about Vermes is this: there was a 1 and 100 chance that Colorado was going to score after the 76th minute. Colorado had spells of longer than two minutes where they didn’t even touch the ball. With those odds,Vermes said, "Let’s end this f..ker right now, in game 1. I want 5 put on them."
Substitute a defensive man for an offensive player up two goals on the road??? That’s right, he made Colorado widen and open up even more than they already were. Maybe it was gamesmanship, or maybe it was a guy who saw an opportunity. He guessed right. Colorado didn’t score and we should have had at least two more goals. All the same, they were never going to win that game. Vermes had a masterful approach and took Spencer to the cleaners.
What Vermes does on Wednesday, we don’t know. What we do know is it won’t be irrational, and LIVESTRONG can sing all the way to the Eastern Conference finals.