I did make it into the Cauldron for the game on Saturday against the Chicago Fire. It was a pretty frustrating game for several reasons, but there were a lot of encouraging things happening in front of us and I sang my heart off. I was disappointed that Sporting couldn't put one in the goal (Saad's shot was about 18 inches wide of goal and was the best chance all day) but it was fantastic to get back to
LSP and rage! Of course, standing directly behind the goalpost isn't the best place to watch the tactical evolution of the game, but it's the best place in the whole stadium. Oh when The Wiz go marching in...
When I was a young man, I loved to play soccer (FOOT!). I was not great it, but the game was always something that quickly learned I loved to watch. I used to get frustrated with the USMNT when I was a kid because their style was so predictable. Play physical defense to win balls that you just blast at the goal or cross over the area to slam a header home. It was brutish and not very effective and it was the way I knew how to play. Don't get me wrong, I bleed red, white and blue like the rest of your dirty dogs, but the American style never seemed like a winner. I have always been impressed by teams with crisp passing ball control, but never really understood how devastating it could be to completely dominate possession. It wasn't until I went to live in España that I got to watch a whole Liga of teams that played that way that I began to understand.
Watching fútbol en España is both edifying and frustrating. I know people don't think it's the deepest league out there, but the competition between teams gripping . Everyone has seen Barça put teams to sleep and then sneak out with, like, five goals, but almost every team is capable of playing that way. Certainly they aren't as talented or well coached, but the style is there. The most absolutely frustrating thing about watching Liga games is that most of the players will not ever, under any circumstances, waste a chance on a long cross or a long shot. It's almost like the goal is completing passes. There are usually a few African midfielders who will blast the occasional screamer on frame, but, mostly, it's guys trying to dribble the ball into the back of goal. They will wait and nibble and back-pass and make 2 yard passes to their teammates in the area and you will be SCREAMING for someone to shoot the ball and then a defender will just smash it away. The teams never stop this. The great thing about it is, though, teams still score a lot and the goals are awesome. I saw a guy score with a rabona from, like, three feet from the goal line. That was cool.
Of course, I'm rambling towards a point, so here it is: Sporting need to learn to be more patient with their chances. I'm tired of reading write-ups of games where I read things like, "Sporting took 20 shots, but only 3 were on frame..." If it wasn't on frame, it probably wasn't a shot. I don't want to see Zusi sky the ball 10 feet over the frame when he's 10 feet away; I want to see Zusi try to shake and bake Sean Johnson and tap it right out of his reach so that it just rolls into the back of the net. If teams are going to bunker in, let them. Just like Spain rode their "False 9" to great success in the last Eurocopa, SKC need to just hang out around the area and nibble until someone finds themselves right in front of goal with the ball. Teams will give Sporting all of the low-percentage chances they want, but, If Sporting can't be patient enough to generate better opportunities, their anemic goal numbers will continue into this season. Bieler is a great player for getting this done as are Feilhaber, Convey and Zusi and Rosell. These guys have the capacity to control their touches enough to combine in the area for some exciting, dangerous stuff.
After the horrible game that Chance Myers had last week I was not surprised that he wasn't in the starting 11. I did not, however, realize that he is injured. That sucks and might explain why he wasn't playing so well in Toronto. I'm wiling to give him a second chance, but there's no way Vermes doesn't ride the hot hand with Mechack Jérôme. Jérôme was awesome all game. I had no idea who he was, but I sure do now. He fielded everything that came his way (even the sloppy balls) and dropped some beauties over top. He and CJ Sapong seemed to combine really well late in the game as well. I totally underestimated how useful the partnership with Orlando would be. I'm looking forward to seeing Mechack start again against New England.
Convey was not in the lineup which I hope was more Vermes wanting to put CJ since he's on form instead of Convey losing trust. I didn't think Convey was great last week against TFC, but he wasn't the worst. CJ played a great game and was tracking back pretty well. He doesn't have the defensive range of Kamara, but who does? The dude is ready to ball and he has to be let loose! I'm glad he got maximum minutes.
Sporting really need to figure out those new tricks for breaking through the bunker. Most teams are going to play like Chicago did in this game. They'll take their chances that their goalie will be shielded enough by the defense in front of him to punch or pick all of the balls that come through the air. Sporting can't dominate the air like they used to. That's old news though... Chicago did exactly what they had to do to keep Claudio Bieler from scoring. He's not the kind of guy who crushes crosses; He's the kind of player who scores like a flash of lighting. He likes to volley and shoot. If he doesn't get balls off of a run, his threat is minimized. The one thing that is great about Bieler in these types of situations is that he appears to be a completely unselfish player. He's willing to put the ball back to the top of the area to give someone else a better shot. Again, this game was frustrating, but there were a lot of great things to be seen.
The midfield looked awesome. Uri Rosell and Mechack Jérôme tied for my men of this match. Uri played with authority and won a lot of balls. He's going to be a special player. I hope Sporting can take more advantage of their Euro-connections. Fielhaber and Nagamura played well. I kind of feel bad for trashing Nagamura last week, but I giving up that penalty was lame. He's got a hard job and it ain't glamorous. It's kind of cool how Vermes has Nagamura and Rosell interchange with Colin and Besler. It's a smart strategy that will only tighter as the season wears on.
Before this game, I wasn't sure that SKC and Chicago Fire were rivals, but now I am sure. It's a rivalry. Chicago played like weenies and wasted a TON of time all game. They knew their best case scenario was a cheap goal or, more likely, a draw. There was a lot of super-lameness coming from both the red and the yellow jerseys. I thought I saw some Chicago supporters at the game, but I didn't hear a thing. I was a little embarrassed that SKC let them get out with a point, but this won't be their last meeting...
I will be interested to see how Sporting line up in Foxborough. I'm personally hoping that they roll out something like: Nielsen, Sinovic, Colin, Olum Jérôme, Nagamura, Rosell, Feilhaber, Convey, Sapong, Bieler. In fact, that's what I'm expecting. Three points on the road would be huge from a squad missing two key players; especially since after New Englnd they are headed back to Canada against at-this-writing-undefeated Montreal.
Oh how I want to be in the Cauldron...
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