What happened to Sporting Kansas City? The former MLS Cup Champions had everything going well and then… “it” hit the fan. The team hasn’t been the same since close to the World Cup. Since the beginning of August, Sporting KC are (2-2-6) in MLS play. To put it in perspective, when SKC began this slide, they were in first place in the Eastern Conference. At that time, the New England Revolution was in sixth place and were 15 points behind. Today, New England is two points ahead. Why is Sporting KC in this free fall and what needs to change in order for this to turn around?
In terms of why Sporting is struggling, one reason is injuries. Every team has injuries but Sporting has had a serious case of the bug. Defenders Chance Myers and Ike Opara have season ending injuries and there are only a few players who haven’t been out for an extended period of time at some point in the season. Different lineups in every game causes a lack of consistency and players not used to each other in game conditions. Last year, when Sporting won the MLS Cup, their lineup was virtually unchanged all year, give or take changes based on suspensions or FIFA competitions. The team, especially the back line, pretty much avoided injuries last year and that consistency helped get them the title.
Another reason is the FIFA World Cup. Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are two very important pieces to Sporting KC. They are so important that they received long-term DP contracts after they got back from the World Cup. Now that they have been back, they haven’t been themselves. They both look exhausted out there and are only a shell of themselves. Besler had nagging hamstring issues and Zusi didn’t really have the best World Cup so a lot more eyeballs will be placed on these two people when it comes to SKC’s success. If they are receiving DP contracts and are expected to be the leaders of the team, they need to be the players who need to step up because if they suffer, the team suffers.
So what does Sporting need to do to change this? While it’s tough to do due to the injuries and lack of players at the moment, the starters need to be given time (a week or two) to “rest” before the postseason. Even in Sporting’s free falling state, they still have a great shot at making the playoffs. Sacrifice positioning in the table and give some of the players a week off to recuperate and go on a playoff run as fresh as possible. I realize that I’m saying this and it would cause Sporting to play in an extra playoff game but if they stay in this bad run, they’re likely to still be in that game anyway. Since 2011, this team has made deep runs in the playoffs every year, they won the 2012 US Open Cup and have played in CONCACAF Champions League in 2013 and 2014. Along with many of the players playing for their international teams, it’s no wonder why this team is dragging. Even “Sporting Fit” has its limits.
Another thing that needs to change is how the team approaches competitions. Sporting doesn’t take any competitions off and while that’s great in an integrity sense, there just aren’t enough players to go around. Sporting KC is fighting to stay in the playoffs and they’re also playing in CONCACAF Champions League. Their last Champions League game against Saprissa is important because it’s placed in between games against the Philadelphia Union and the New York Red Bulls. The two teams are fighting for a playoff spot and Sporting must win or draw against Saprissa in Costa Rica to advance to the knockout stage of Champions League. As much as I love the team trying for every trophy, something needs to give. They need to sacrifice one of those games, it’s just a matter of which one.
The other possibility is that this kind of thing happens to all teams and maybe Sporting Kansas City isn’t destined to win anything this season. Every team goes through slumps every season and it’s unfortunate that SKC is suffering theirs at the end of the season when it’s getting down to crunch time. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Sporting makes an early exit in the playoffs this year. It gets the team an extra month off and they won’t have to deal with Champions League next fall. And quite honestly, I would rather see Sporting lose out in the Conference Semis than go all the way to the MLS Cup Final and lose. If Sporting is going to sacrifice a month worth of offseason time, they better win the whole thing. As much as I would like to see the team win anything and everything too, maybe missing out on a trophy this season will help the guys readjust and refresh themselves in future years.
(image courtesy of mlssoccer.com)