The Loons were always going to lose the possession war in Kansas City. In two of the last three away games the Loons only saw about 40% of the ball. Somewhat surprisingly they had 62% possession in the 4-2 loss away to Vancouver. The only stat that matters, however, is goals. In Vancouver, the Loons couldn’t finish when they had the ball; in LA they were able to take their few chances to nab a point. Tonight in Kansas City, they had neither the edge in possession, nor in goals, and go home without a point.
From the first minute the Loons looked like they never expect to come away any more than a point. Based on their away form and countless games against Sporting KC ending in misery, Adrian Heath can’t necessarily be blamed for trying to escape with a point. Three points would have been incredible, one would have been nice, none isn’t at all surprising. Playing not to lose is a dangerous game and in the end the Loons couldn’t quite scrape together enough to come home with anything.
Without the injured Darwin Quintero, the Loons had to rely on someone else to break the inevitable Sporting pressure. That role fell to Ibson, with Schuller and Warner as the holding midfielders and Angelo Rodriguez and Mason Toye as the strikers. The plan was to use the speed of Toye and the strength of Rodriguez to spring counters, anything short went into the feet of Ibson to distribute. It led to a few half chances, but not many quality shots on target. The best opportunity came to Toye when Rodriguez chipped a diagonal ball over the head of Ibson and between the center backs. Toye’s volley floated harmlessly over the bar, the mark of a young rookie who is only on his second start of his MLS career.
The long balls over the top did allow the Loons to get out of their own half when they were hunkered deep in their own half. The only problem was that Rodriguez and Toye weren’t able to track everything down, and when they couldn’t the ball came straight back down the throats of Minnesota United. Playing the ball through the middle yielded about the same success rate. With Ibson pushed higher, a lot of the linkup play fell on his crafty, if slightly weak shoulders. Too many times he ended up on the ground, eyes on referee Robert Sibiga, arms performing the first 25% of the YMCA. In transition, the three man midfield relied on Ibson being able to receive the ball on the half turn and keep it for long enough for United to get bodies up to support him. Defensively, he was a passenger, tasked with always finding a passing lane to be available to receive the ball. This led to problems for the Loons against SKC’s midfield trio, especially when the Zusi and Sinovic came in to have a few potshots at goal. While none made it on target, it was only a matter of time before one got dialed in.
Despite being outnumbered in midfield and an inability to hold the ball on a break, the Loons went in at halftime level. Thoughts of a second away point on this road trip were turning into dreams of snatching a second away victory. But alas, it wasn’t to be.
Yohan Croizet, the much maligned DP, was subbed on at halftime for another of their DP midfielders, Felipe Gutierrez. It took two minutes and one defensive misstep for him to roll Boxy and beat Shuttleworth at his near post. The ball was given away way too easily in the midfield and Shuttleworth gave Croizet a lot of space to finish into. It wasn’t a goal that screamed out about the gulf in class between the two sides, it was one that showed who was more focused. The Loons had just enough time to get back on their feet before getting hit with the knockout blow. Ibson’s lack of pressure from the #10 allowed Sporting KC too much time in the midfield and the ball broke to Diego Rubio. He opened up a half yard of space to squeeze it past Jerry and catch Shuttleworth flatfooted.
With 30 minutes left, the Loons finally looked like they wanted to get something out of the game, but by this point Sporting were in cruise control. The Loons mustered several shots from distance from Rodriguez and Danladi, but they ended up being routine saves for Melia. The most dangerous opportunities in the last 30 minutes from the Loons came from individual displays from Romario and Rodriguez. Even when the Loons were able to get some possession in the midfield, it fell apart when the ball got near the box. Miguel Ibarra was largely absent from the game before being pulled and Rodriguez and Romario never seemed like they were on the same page as every one else. There were flashes of what could look like a dangerous offense, but it wasn’t going to show up today. The game for the Loons was summed up when Ibson found himself free in the box and clipped a curling effort off the crossbar.
In the end it could have been a lot worse. Despite Sporting playing their strongest lineup they didn’t look great, and a lot of that is down to the Loons doing just enough to put them off. Again, it was mistakes that downed the Loons, but they showed that they weren’t as easy to play through when they were in the mood. The biggest loss from this game is probably Boxall and Calvo to yellow card accumulation suspensions. The next game is in two weeks in DC and by then there should be some increased chemistry between the two new attackers and the rest of the team, and possibly a new #6 in Fernando Bob to integrate into the starting lineup as well.
The result may not have been a shock, but were there things about this performance that stood out? Good or bad, let us know in the comments down below.