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Scouting Report: Sporting Kansas City

The Loons travel to SKC for what feels like the 20th time. What’s different this time?

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Sporting Kansas City Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

“I thought we got away with one tonight.”

It was honesty from Heath, after the second game in a row with a late winner from Minnesota United.

“We started slowly in the first half. As I said, we were second to every ball. Second to every second ball. And, last 15, 20 minutes, we got a little bit of play going. And, got a good goal.”

This sums up the past few performances for the Loons. I’m not sure if it is genuine frustration for Heath, or trying to motivate his players for the end of the season. Heath uses the media as well as any in the league, but his methods are known by all.

SKC won’t buy it, and will prepare as always but that is the Peter Vermes way. These two teams are similar in almost every way, and what I wrote before “MLS is Back” still applies every time these two teams meet.

While both teams have already clinched a playoff birth and are “only playing for seeding”, yeah I doubt that. Both teams have the mentalities of their managers who will not let that attitude slide. So what should the Loons be wary of on Sunday?

Sporting Kansas City might have the most versatile midfield three in MLS, they only bring in technically proficient midfielders who are comfortable in possession and can play in a variety of spots on the field. They have a variety of players who complete a variety of roles, and due to this predicting what Vermes will do is very difficult. So why even try, SKC will have the matchup advantage here, especially given the injuries as of late for the Loons.

Here are three non-obvious roles to watch for SKC:

Tim Melia - GK - the definition of what usually succeeds in MLS, a veteran goal keeper who when on his game wins you matches. Won’t usually make decisions that cost you games, except for the game down in Orlando...

Reid/Fontas/Puncec - CB - Puncec has stepped in admirably this season, and has proven to be an MLS caliber starter. When healthy Reid and Fontas are probably SKC’s best center back pairing, however managing their fitness over the net two games going into the playoffs is key for a potential playoff run. Having three very good options is a big strength for Kansas City.

Jaylin Lindsey - RB - Since Graham Zusi’s surgery Lindsey has stepped into a bigger role, many had been hoping he’d step into. Lindsey is an interesting player to watch, not only due to his age but also the skill set. Jaylin Lindsey isn’t what many think of in a “modern wing back” in fact the biggest area for improvement is taking players on in 1v1 situations. Where Lindsey succeeds is finding the midfielders in difficult pockets of space to play into, as well as recognizing when it is not there and circulating possession back around again.

This style of player speaks to the “Sporting Way”, let the ball do the work to disorganize the opponent. Especially when they try to break lines in central areas right through the opponents spine. Here is the philosophical difference in the way SKC and MNUFC approach the game and why when they matchup it’s always interesting to watch. However they also have two ace’s in their hand in Johnny Russell and Alan Pulido.

Pulido is the best player when on his game for Kansas City, he’s a “$10 million striker” (you’ll get sick of this I promise). His goal against FC Cincinnati on Wednesday is exactly how he will punish the Loons, if he does. The Loons have a tendency to give up the same space, when the midfield can be slow to react to retreating to the 18, so they have the option to counter attack. This will be especially prevalent without Ozzie. While its unlikely the Loons do it as poorly as FCC did, this pattern of play is a staple of how SKC like to attack their opposition, and if the Loons don’t prepare for it they will pay.

Meanwhile with Russell one of the traits that makes him dangerous is how comfortable he is on both wings, but is most devastating when floating in from the right touchline. This is especially devastating when a team like the Loons push their outside backs forward, hence why the Loons played that more defensive shape last time out.

The last time the Loons traveled to SKC, they started the game in a more defensive shape then usual, this was in part due to fixture congestion, as well as adapting to the opponent and healthy of the team. It was awful to watch, but had the Loons gotten the draw and not given up the late goal to Russell we’d be praising Heath’s tactics. Predicting if the Loon’s line up in a more defensive shape again is tough to say, while it certainly would make sense to try and neutralize Russell cutting in from their right side of the field, it may not be necessary with Chase Gasper presumably out. Especially since that means they are likely to slide Dibassy out to the left side, who is less likely to be as aggressive going forward which gives less space for Russell.

What kind of player they put in front of Dibassy will determine the approach from the Loons in that moment of the game. Heath will go more attacking on that side in some point of the game, the question is does he change his strategy of attacking SKC later in the game rather then earlier?

The Loons haven’t played well lately, but results are results and unbeaten in six is something that should be paid attention to especially given the circumstances in 2020. The Loons haven’t been playing well enough to be excited about what this team will do in the playoffs. One way to fix this is to see more end product from the 9 or the 10, Reynoso has created a lot of chances since joining the Loons. However to make that next step and really take this to a new level there needs to be more end product from that role.

SKC is always a tough game, even when fully healthy. I’m not optimistic going into Sunday but if the Loons stick to these three points they have a chance.

  1. Keep the defensive shape compact vertically, and cover for each other in the middle.
  2. Win the second ball, which we haven’t done without Dotson this season.
  3. When you get the opportunity to score, take it. Clinical finishing wins tough games.