What did our beloved Claret and Cobalt do the evening of March, 10th? They did what they trained for. They did what they most wanted. They did what they are capable of. They “came to score” (The Aggrolites).
It had to happen that way, didn't it? After a week of pure hype around the league, the game was won on a single mistake on a corner. We put up a solid defensive fight, but while the game may have been won on a set piece, we lost it in the midfield.
For 70 minutes, it looked like we could escape with a draw — and you'd be forgiven for thinking that's what we were playing for. I don't imagine we were actually so negative as to play for a draw, but tactically, something was amiss. We saw huge gaps in the midfield where normally we'd see our, well, midfielders. The diamond was thrown so far out of shape that we didn't know what to do — and it showed.
If we wanted to win the game, we needed to complete more than a third of our passes in the final third. We didn't. We would have needed to take more than one shot on target. We didn't. We would have needed to look like us and not this shadow of a team. We didn't.
But it's not all despair, is it? We showed a defensive solidity on the road and an understanding that, to get a result, our passing had to be safe. Our passes in our third were largely successful: 88 percent found one of our players. That's not so bad. Our defensive shape was inspired, and Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave showed once again why they're the greatest tandem in the league.
Even tactically, it looked like Jason might have got it right, but as gaps started appearing, you would be excused for thinking he hadn't. However, I'm certain he hadn't intended for Saborio and Espindola to be left almost exclusively in no-man's land up top with no attacking midfielder to link play.
We saw this problem too often last season when Javier Morales was out: We didn't link at all up front. While Luis Gil has grown as a player since the doldrums of last season, he was almost entirely absent. How absent? He completed 15 of 20 passes during 76 minutes. That, quite frankly, isn't enough. Sebastian Velasquez, too, completed 19 of 27 passes in 63 minutes. Over the entirety of the match, Will Johnson completed 29 of 45 passes. Kyle Beckerman was our only saving grace in midfield, completing 45 of 58 passes, but even he looked a shadow of himself.
It's safe to say that we were tactically outclassed in the midfield. Whether that's down to the tactics employed by Jason or whether it's down to the tactics rolled out by Peter Vermes, I can't really say. It's hard for me to imagine that Jason wanted our side to surrender the midfield battle, so I'll assume it just didn't go to plan. It's the only fair assumption. So when we surrendered the midfield, we, in turn, lost our forwards. Their movement wasn't inspired, but they hardly had a chance to shine.
Looking at the defense is slightly more encouraging, especially when we consider Tony Beltran. The positions in which he won the ball back stopped just short of the final third — he's credited individually with nine recoveries, five of which were in the opponent's half. He showed the attacking thrust nearly everyone else lacked. Nat Borchers, too, was as solid as his old, not-injured self, and I think it's fair to say that we were all reminded of his skill.
It's also encouraging to look at stats surrounding Sporting's attacking line: CJ Sapong, Bobby Convey, Kei Kamara, and Graham Zusi were all effectively absent. Our tactical approach suffocated their passing lanes with pressure inside our own half, and it was telling that they never really looked threatening. Perhaps this is because we didn't give them much opportunity to counter, but only to build from normal play — I'm not so sure.
Credit to Sporting KC: They took the change they had with aplomb. We never really looked like winning, but surely, for 70 minutes at least, we didn't really look like losing, either. I still refuse to believe that we were playing for a draw, but if that was the result, I doubt we would have had too much to complain about.
Two losses now, and it's time to move onward with the season. I'll touch more on this match over the coming days, but don't expect me to smile too much about it. As the boys on Twitter have reminded us, there are 28 more games — but I'd add to that: 2 more competitions, too. Which isn't to say I don't think we can win MLS, because I think we can, but to say that there's a lot to play for.
'Til tomorrow, then.