Stats Zone: Sounders succumb to Sporting KC after red card

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City prevailed in Seattle in an opener between two Western Conference hopefuls, but one moment changed the game, Spenser Davis writes.

The weather in Seattle transitioned along with the match, as what started as a bright, sunny day in which the Sounders created a number of chances quickly turned into a grey, sloppy mess after Oniel Fisher’s 41st minute red card. Sporting Kansas City prevailed, 1-0 on a goal from Nuno Cuelho in his MLS debut.

Seattle started rather brightly, passing crisply and creating a number of chances, like when rookie Jordan Morris was put through on goal early on only to put his shot over the bar.

Sporting KC put in committed challenges early and often against the Sounders, one of which gave Seattle a free kick at a very favorable angle. Clint Dempsey nearly put it in the top corner like he did last week against Club America, but Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia was able to tip it over the bar. Dempsey’s free kick was the only shot on target that the Sounders would have in the first half, with three others off target and another blocked. Sporting KC, on the other hand, had eight total shots in the first half, three of them on target.

Seattle dominated possession in the first half (54 percent) and were fairly sharp in their passing (81.6 percent), but of the 203 completed passes only two were inside the opposition penalty box. In comparison, even though neither team scored in the opening 45 minutes, Sporting KC completed seven passes in the Seattle penalty box out of 165 completed.

Studs up, outlook down

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, the agony of a red card on opening day. (Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports)

So while the first half was fairly uneventful with only a handful of chances on both sides (four for each), it was notable for one very specific incident: Fisher’s red card following a particularly zealous (but in the end, harmless) two-footed tackle on KC’s Connor Hallisey in the 41st minute. Fisher had been a rock for the Sounders at right-back, completing 19 successful tackles from his own box all the way to the top of the opposition box. Fisher had three interceptions during his 40 minutes on the pitch as well, one of which was even on the opposite side of the pitch. Fisher also blocked a dangerous cross early on.

What’s especially interesting is that the areas of the pitch in which Fisher had the most influence were near midfield and even into the attacking third at times, which gave Sounders coach Sigi Schmid another attacking weapon on the right similar to how Joevin Jones plays on the left. Tyrone Mears, while fairly good defensively and able to put in a mean cross, doesn’t have the youthful speed of Fisher which limits the Sounders’ threat on the right side.

A team that is down a player is always going to be at a disadvantage, but the Sounders lost one of their best players in the first half and were forced to drop a midfielder, Cristian Roldan, into right-back until Zach Scott came on in the 70th minute. The team as a whole was less influential, and was roundly dominated for much of the second half. Roldan didn’t do anything wrong, for the most part, but his forced move to midfield was just part of the aftershock of the earlier red card. Dempsey and Morris had to drop back, and the team simply resorted to firing long balls to the isolated Nelson Valdez in the final third. Seattle only had eight of 25 successful passes in the attacking third during the second half, further showing how much Fisher’s dismissal affected the team’s play.

Man advantage? Or disadvantage?

Sporting KC’s second-half domination is underlined by both the stats and the result, as the away side had a shocking 70.4 percent of possession in the second half and completed 77 of 100 passes in the final third. This dominance culminated in Coelho’s goal in the 73rd minute. Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei probably could have done more with the shot, which came from about 10 yards outside the box and slipped in under Frei’s outstretched body.

Kansas City should have actually done more with their possession and attacking-third dominance, as Sporting’s only shot on target during the entire half was Coelho’s goal. What’s curious is that, though they dominated possession and passing due to being up a man for more than 45 minutes, the match could have easily ended 0-0 due to Sporting’s inability to turn successful attacking third passes into shots, much less shots on target. While KC will be happy with the result, coach Peter Vermes will likely be rather annoyed at his forwards and midfielders, as their only goal had to come from a central defender.

In fact, this was a game in which both teams’ forwards came up short. Seattle’s Clint Dempsey had 2 shots, and only the aforementioned free kick made it on target. Sporting KC’s Dom Dwyer was even more useless in the attack with a single shot that wasn’t on target. Andreas Ivanschitz, Seattle’s Austrian midfielder, had the only other shot on target for the Sounders. All of Sporting’s shots on target came from midfielders or in Coelho’s case, a defender.

Good with the bad for Seattle’s defense

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Evans' shoulder injury is a concern for Seattle. (Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports)

The top four passers in the match were all Sporting KC players, with Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso the only Seattle player in the top five, with 59 of 63 completed passes.

And Schmid’s desire to use attacking fullbacks was on display in this match, not just with Fisher but with new signing Jones, who continued to be dangerous on the left not just at midfield and defense but also in the opposition half. Jones completed 41 of 47 passes, with 4 of 4 in the attacking third.

While it certainly helped that Sporting KC looked particularly inept when attempting to finish their opportunities, the Seattle defense was fairly solid throughout the match. Despite the fluidity at right back (Fisher to Roldan to Brad Evans - who left the game injured late - back to Roldan), the Sounders completed 16 of 22 tackles in the match, had 20 interceptions (7 from center back Chad Marshall) and six blocks.

Despite the result, both managers have plenty of positives and negatives from this match, which was understandably a bit cagey at times as it was the first match of the season. The Sounders were still getting used to a couple new players and a new formation, and Sporting KC was without one of their best midfielders, Benny Feilhaber, and new signing Brad Davis. Both teams will need to work on their shooting in the coming weeks, as the utter lack of activity near the goal was disheartening for each. Seattle will need to get settled on defense and practice fluidity throughout the entire pitch. Morris is still getting used to the big leagues, and will need to develop chemistry with Valdez and Dempsey if he – and Seattle – are going to have a shot at silverware this season.

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