Greetings, Daily Wizzers! I am assuming there are approximately five of you, but what the hell. I love Sporting (KANSAS CITY 'TIL I DIE!!) and I plan on vomiting thousands of words upon this internet professing that love. I don't know a lot about the history of soccer (foot!), but I've got a lot of experience watching the game in Europe and America. I plan on providing my post-game commentary throughout the season in an effort to refine and celebrate my love for the game and this side. Thank you and I hope you enjoy reading.
Full Disclosure: I watched the game at a bar while everyone else in the place watched Kansas have a slam dunk festival in front of West Virginia and then Mizzou play some compelling and dominant basketball against LSU, so I didn't get to hear any commentary. The playing surface didn't appear to be much of a factor in the game either way.* It was pretty easy to tell, though, that it was cold in Philly. I'm sure the Sons of Ben were fired up and the wind was whipping off of the river. A difficult environment, to be sure.
1. Sebastian Le Toux and Keon Daniel owned the first 30 minutes of the game. Le Toux continues to be one of the better players up top for any squad in the MLS. It would have been great if SKC had signed him in the off season (and I thought they might be interested after watching him beat the defense time after time in Vancouver last year) but I am very happy with what I saw from Claudio Bieler. The Farfans did a good job of being physical and allowing Daniel to funnel balls up the middle to Le Toux. It was looking to be a rough night until the SKC defense tightened up after Zusi's equalizer.
2. Sporting let the game start way too fast. If they are going to run the 4-3-3 high-press they need to be able to slow the game down. The Union were able to bring plenty of counter-attacks in the first half because the back four could not maintain their shape. The midfield was losing and chasing balls all over the place. I realize it was the season opener and everyone's got butterflies, but you have to be able to settle in after the first few minutes and not let the opportunistic counter-attacking style beat you. 80% of the MLS squads that SKC will play this year will bunker in and wait for counter-attacks. If they let the pace of the game get too far out of hand, they will concede cheap goals because the defense won't be able to keep its shape.
3. The midfield need to be more crisp with their passing. Again, it's the beginning of the season, but I saw quite a few missed passes and poorly anticipated runs. Jimmy Nielsen bailed the team out a couple of times on bad balls in their own area. These things cannot happen. Against a squad like San Jose, this game would have been a nightmare. SKC could have stayed in their base 4-3-3 if they were connecting on their passes more efficiently since it would have allowed them to keep possession and play a slower game. Slowing the game down and efficient passing are synergistic and they must be a priority for this team.
4. Claudio Bieler looks to be the real deal. He's got a great touch and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He was involved in two of the three goals. I will be surprised if he scores less than 15 goals this year. I read a lot about him not being in the kind of shape that the coaching staff wanted him to be, but he looked great to me. I was talking to a friend during the game and we both agreed that great strikers have a certain quality about them that is greater than athleticism or egoism or anything quantifiable. Great strikers are opportunistic and single minded about putting the ball into the net and they make it happen. I'm not saying El Taca is El Salvador, but he's good and he's got it.
5. Jimmy Nielsen is as clutch as ever. There were plenty of chances for Philadelphia to get back into the game. SKC managed to settle down on Le Toux and Daniel in the second half, but there were still runs at goal that were dangerous. Jimmy came up with several great saves. He's definitely deserving of his honor as GK of the year in 2012. This game was one where you are either very lucky or very good to have only conceded one goal. Luck or skill, I'll take Jimmy all day.
6. This team will score a lot more goals than last year's team. Rosell and Bieler getting scores in this games is fantastic, however, don't look for a lot of goals through the air this year. We aren't looking at the same style of offense where we see Collin, Kamara and Sapong hammering crosses all day. Zusi is still going to be providing great service on free kicks and Besler will be there for the long toss, but I see this team settling in around the top of the box and creating chances through chaos. The better this team gets at controlling the offensive middle of the field, the more dominant they will become.
I'm pretty excited for this season. There are quite a few unknowns in the midfield this year and the depth at forward is pretty exciting. I'm looking forward to being surprised by the kind of personnel groups that Vermes runs out. Saad and Dwyer offer plenty of pace and diversity up top and it will be AMAZING
when if Kamara comes back. Unless Kamara is back, I expect to see Bieler starting almost every game. I expect that Zusi will get moved all around up top and in the mid-field, but he may have found a home as a winger. I like Zusi in the middle of the field (making shapes) but he's dangerous wherever you can put him. I expect to see Sapong come off of the bench, but I can also see Vermes trying to get him to learn to play the wing like Kamara did. Those are big shoes to fill, but Sapong is a great talent. He'll need to get fired up and play his heart out on defense to be a starting candidate on the wing, but he will remain a powerful asset regardless of how many minutes he gets.
This was a fun game to watch and I'm looking forward to the next game. SKC should pull off a win next week against Toronto and roll into the home opener against the Chicago Fire with six points. The Toronto game does have a trap vibe about it, so we just have to hope that the boys stay focused on preparation for 03/09/2013.
It's going to be a fun season!
*I don't really get why players blame the pitch for having a bad game. It seems like the USMNT throw this down as an excuse a lot (::cough::Jamaica::cough::) but it's lame when you consider how much of an advantage our athletes have over the other CONCACAF sides. Maybe the USMNT should just practice on some poor surfaces or on the beach or mix it up or do something to get ready for it. Don't complain that you're used ideal conditions and that it isn't fair to you when those conditions aren't met. Essentially, you are complaining that you are at a disadvantage because of your privilege. It's a little bit offensive, but, it mostly makes me mad because USMNT sides tend to be mercurial, at best, and should win those matches. I'd like to see some poise and consistency from my countrymen, instead of excuses. I believe it will come, but I am growing impatient.