5 reasons why Sporting KC might be Major League Soccer's best team
Sporting KC's pesky approach, the foundation of its defensive acumen, causes opponents all sorts of problems, and so far nobody's come up with an answer. Sporting buzzes around the ball the entire game, pushing a high line, pressuring intensely and interrupting the opponent's flow at every opportunity.
Vermes' men are physical, and they know how to draw fouls -- 91 so far, while committing just 68. The team keeps an expert shape and organization, providing security to take chances that can quickly lead to an attacking foray.
It's all about attitude, and with Dom Dwyer and Roger Espinoza, especially, there's a nastiness that goes a long way. Espinoza is pivotal as an intense, surging destroyer who can create, and Sanchez's presence provides a foundation for his best work.
K.C.'s movement and energy compress the field defensively, and it has the quality to pounce when the ball turns over. Even the best attacking sides -- Portland, for instance, which had scored 16 goals in its first six games -- can be flummoxed. The Timbers were held without a goal for the first time in the last 22 games at Providence Park.
The core of the group has been together for years. Vermes joined Sporting as technical director in 2006 and succeeded current LA Galaxy boss Curt Onalfo as head coach in August 2009. Five players are in at least their seventh year at K.C., and 11 are in at least their fifth.
Espinoza has been around, aside from two years with Wigan Athletic, since 2008. Zusi and Besler have been in Kansas City since 2009. Dwyer arrived in 2012, Feilhaber and Opara and Jimmy Medranda in 2013. There's a good comfort level among the players all over the field, and it informs how they defend and in their ability to build through possession.
This team is built to win now.
The additions of Sanchez and Designated Player winger Gerso Fernandes have, in concert with the moves at outside back, made Sporting a far more dynamic group.
Sanchez's quality, especially, was apparent in preseason, and his impact cannot be overestimated. Moving Zusi back from midfield opened a spot for Gerso, a left-footer from Guinea-Bissau and Portugal who has been most impressive cutting in from the right, and Sinovic's return to left back enabled Jimmy Medranda to take a more fitting role farther forward. It's given K.C. better width.
That's a lot of moving parts, but it's all been nearly seamless, much more so than anyone had the right to expect.
ON THE BALL
Vermes says this is the best team he's fielded with the ball at its feet, and the contrast of the resulting on-the-floor play with Dwyer's fight up top makes Sporting a most formidable side. Sanchez, again, is crucial to this equation, and another who benefits from his presence is Feilhaber, among the league's best creative midfielders.
If there is a weak link, it's in front of goal. Dwyer has 50 goals over the last three seasons, but for all his gifts, he has to be the streakiest striker in MLS. Half of his goals last year came in four two-goal games, and he put together a four-game scoring stretch late in the season. He'll go a month without hitting the net, and SKC doesn't score all that often when Dwyer isn't finishing. The team tallied just once or not at all in 13 of the first 16 games last year, and this season began with three 0-0 draws in the first four outings.
Sporting moves the ball nicely and finds penetration, but too often the shots aren't worthy. Only 25 of 73 attempts have been on target. It is hoped that Gerso will pick up some of the load, although he's never been a consistent scorer, and there will be production off the bench by Soony Saad, back with the club after two years in Thailand, and 20-year-old Ghanaian forward Latif Blessing.
The attack has been more precise the past two games, and Dwyer is hot at the moment, with fine goals in both of them. Feilhaber's return from a thigh strain that forced him out of the tie at Toronto and win over Colorado has enlivened the attack, which last week had the Timbers on their heels most of the way. Gerso is continually dangerous, and Zusi and Sinovic, who started the victory against Colorado with his first MLS regular-season goal, have been effective coming forward.
If it can find consistent scoring beyond Dwyer, or with him, Sporting is going to have something to say about who's celebrating at season's end.
Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.