You have to play the games when they are scheduled--weather permitting, at least. Injuries and international duty and babies being born left the teams short handed last night. The absent stars for both sides render the result last night a poor augur of future performances, but I'm pretty sure Peter Vermes prefers three points in the standings right now to a clear vision of future meetings between the two teams.
We won, and that's enough--but we did learn a few things along the way.
We learned that Sounder's fans enjoy whining about calls on Twitter. Hey, I've been known to complain more than once about travesties like the Great Offsiding in Dallas earlier this year, so I don't begrudge them their complaints even if I don't agree with them. It sure is nice to see karma work out sometimes, though.
We learned that Zusi as a false nine is something to reserve for emergencies. It works okay, but it doesn't play to this team's strengths. It's not just that the Sporting attack became vastly more threatening once Dwyer entered the match, it's that Sporting's defense became stouter once our bulldog of a striker was available to holdup balls cleared from the back. False nines are fun and all, but Sporting Kansas City isn't built to play like the Spanish national team. We need a target upfront.
We learned that the Sporting youth movement is the real deal.
I fully expected Dia to face setbacks if he had to keep starting at left back as a rookie, but for the most part he's adjusted well to everything he's faced other than the physical strength of opponents--but that will come with time in the weight room. Dia makes about one rookie mistake per match, but that's a shockingly low rate for a kid playing in a demanding position like left back. I want Seth to get better, but running the rookie out there in the starting lineup no longer terrifies me.
From my vantage in the West Stand it looks like Connor Hallisey is on the verge of having a breakout match. Over and over again last night, especially in the first half without a true striker on the field, Connor's timing was a fraction of a second away from a goal. As he gets more reps as a professional, those final elements of timing and finishing will come. It's hard to teach a kid to make the runs Connor makes; it's hard to teach a kid to see the passes Connor makes. Connor will lose his starting spot once Dwyer is back to full speed and Nemeth returns from international duty, but he'll be the kind of game-changing offensive substitute Vermes has often lacked on his bench. He's a nice insurance policy for future absences up-front.
Another rookie, Abdul-Salaam, once again contributed quality minutes off of the bench. Rogers, our rookie speedster, continues to make the bench even if he hasn't entered a match yet. These kids are growing up fast, and that will pay dividends later this season and next.
We saw Chance Myers on the field again, even if he was just warming up. Anibaba continues to perform well filling in at right back, but if he returns to his prior level of play (which may take until next season, alas), Chance provides skills and raw athleticism on the right flank that few teams in MLS can match.
We learned that I was entirely wrong about the prospects of Tim Melia in goal for Sporting. For me, Melia was the man of the match last night. We needed him to make big saves against the Sounders, and Tim came up big. He still has room to grow into his new role, but he's improving every match. One of these days he's going to have a bad game, and how he reacts will tell us a lot about his makeup and his future, but all signs are the future will be bright.
Most of all, we learned that Sporting will be a factor in the playoff race, and maybe well into the playoffs. This team has only lost twice this year, which is the fewest losses in MLS so far and only half of the loss total of several very good teams. If we maintain our position in the standings and get a spot, Sporting will be a very tough out, which can be parlayed into hardware. A team that doesn't lose is hard to eliminate, and we well know that cups can be won on penalty kicks.
Speaking of elimination tournaments, our next match is in the US Open Cup. Bring on St. Louis.