Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How Sporting Turned it Around

The last Sporting article on KC Sports Spot was written in a dark time, when I, as well as many others, feared the season was already over.  The defense wasn’t meshing, there was no trace chemistry, and there was no consistency with the lineup or play of the team.  Most fans believed there would be some sort of turn around with the opening of Livestrong Park, but few had any idea that Sporting would go on a twelve game unbeaten streak and would be sitting in fourth place in their conference.  All of the sudden, Sporting has become dangerous on offense and indestructible on defense.  So what happened?  Surely the opening of the new stadium couldn’t be the only reason Sporting has become a monster…  Could it?  Let’s take a look at the pieces that have turned Sporting’s season around.

Graham Zusi

Out of nowhere, Graham Zusi went from someone who shouldn’t be starting for Sporting, to a guy who looks like he should have been on the United States Gold Cup roster.  After Zusi’s two goal performance against FC Dallas in June, he has had a new found confidence.  It is almost like Zusi had a revelation during that game, a revelation that gave him poise and swagger.  Without a doubt Zusi has been the anchor of the offense, creating opportunity after opportunity while setting the pace of the game and maintaining outstanding control.  Now that Zusi has realized how good he is, Sporting players and fans expect nothing but greatness from him.

The maturation of C.J. Sapong

As you would expect from any rookie, C.J. Sapong started the season slowly.  However, during the twelve game unbeaten streak we have witnessed a more patient and unselfish Sapong.  Early in the season, as most fans can recall, when C.J. had the ball he was looking to score.  No matter who was open or how many defenders he had on him, he was going to the goal.  Now, we are seeing C.J. pass the ball and even wait for guys to make runs, demonstrating his playmaking skills that weren’t very prevalent early on.  His unselfishness and patience has led to a rather nice chemistry between himself and Omar Bravo.

Improved play and stability of the defense

Who would have thought that defense would be a strength for Sporting two months ago?  Not I.  What had been the biggest flaw on the team has become its most consistent aspect.  Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler have stabilized the middle of the defense with their skill and physicality.  They complement each other nicely as the bruiser (Collin) and the brain (Besler).  Roger Espinoza has come alive after being moved to his more instinctive position of defensive midfielder, which opened up the wing for Chance Myers, who is back to playing defense after a short stint at forward.  Myers' focus is much improved and has been a threat bringing the ball up from the right wing.  Opposite Myers, Michael Harrington has been as solid as ever playing left back.  Harrington has never blown anyone away with flash, but he has a never ending motor and rarely makes mistakes.

Davey Arnaud

Sadly, Arnaud is making the team better by not playing.  Graham Zusi has had more freedom and touches without Arnaud dominating the ball. He has unable to adjust to the fast paced offense around him, and his defense, or lack thereof, is suspect at best.

The scary thing is, they can be better!

Sporting's offense has potential to be the best in the league.  If Vermes ever decides to play two forwards up top, Sapong and Teal Bunbury could develop into one of the best striking tandems the league has ever seen.  Add to that an attacking midfield of Kei Kamara and Graham Zusi, and watch out MLS.