Sporting’s Movement Too Much For Shorthanded Revs

Written by Ian Thomson
Sporting Head Coach Peter Vermes talks to his players during pre-season training in Florida (Photo: Ian Thomson)

Sporting Kansas City swept aside New England Revolution 3-0 at Sporting Livestrong Park Saturday after the visitors were reduced to 10 men early in the game.

Referee Silviu Petrescu dismissed defender Stephen McCarthy after 14 minutes for an innocuous-looking foul on C.J. Sapong. The two players were wrestling for possession 30 yards from goal after Kei Kamara flicked Jimmy Nielsen’s clearance beyond the Revs’ back line.

Goals from Graham Zusi, Kamara and Sapong wrapped up a comfortable win for Sporting, keeping them at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Line-Ups

Sporting's 4-3-3 contains a lot of forward/midfield interchanging

Sporting Head Coach Peter Vermes made one personnel change from Major League Soccer’s opening day. Teal Bunbury’s call-up for the United States’ U-23 national team meant a starting role for Sapong, whose injury-time header snatched a 1-0 win at D.C. United the previous week.

New England’s first year Head Coach Jay Heaps made three changes to his side that fell 1-0 at San Jose Earthquakes in their opening match. French striker Saer Sene made his debut and Lee Nguyen, another new arrival, got his first start for the club. Fernando Cardenas and Blake Brettschneider dropped to the substitutes’ bench. Chris Tierney came into the left side of defense in place of the injured John Lozano.

Opening Stages

Sporting’s tactical development under Vermes has been impressive. There is a fluency about his three forwards and three midfield players, while full-backs Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic constantly look to play in the opposition’s half. Spaces open up for opponents to exploit if they are patient and can break quickly.

Heaps’ approach was to do just that. The Revs allowed Sporting center-backs Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler to stroke the ball around in their own half. Only when Sporting approached the halfway line would New England’s forwards start to press.

The first chance to exploit Myers’ attacking zealousness came in the fifth minute. It should have led to a goal for Benny Feilhaber. Tierney won the ball from Kamara in midfield as Myers was setting off on an overlapping run. That left 50 yards of space for the Revs defender to advance into before he tried to find Sene with a low cross into the penalty area. Feilhaber seized upon Besler’s interception at the edge of the box. The former Hamburg midfielder’s side-footed shot lacked venom and Besler recovered to block it for a corner kick.

The Revs had a lucky escape in the ninth minute. Goalkeeper Matt Reis raced from his penalty area to challenge Sapong despite Tierney being in close pursuit of the striker. Roger Espinoza gathered the loose ball 30 yards out and chipped the back-pedaling Reis. His effort smacked against the left post.

Sporting’s pressing was beginning to pen the visitors into their own half. Forwards Sapong, Kamara and Bobby Convey close down defenders high up the field with Zusi and Espinoza lending support. Another two or three Sporting players added to the pressure when the ball went wide to Tierney or right-back Kevin Alston, forcing them back toward the central defenders for a hurried clearance.

Seven Sporting players press when Tierney faces his own goal

Sending Off Forces New England Backward

New England's initial shape lasted 14 minutes until McCarthy's red card

McCarthy’s dismissal tilted the game in Sporting’s favor. Kamara should have punished them immediately from the ensuing free kick. The Sierra Leone forward headed Convey’s inswinger past Reis’ left post from eight yards out. Espinoza fired a left-foot volley narrowly wide of the same upright from Besler’s long throw three minutes later.

Heaps reorganized his team by dropping Shalrie Joseph alongside A.J. Soares in central defense and withdrawing Feilhaber into the middle of a conventional four-man midfield.

Kamara’s strength in the air offers Sporting another attacking option with a quick left-to-right switch. It was the follow-up play to such a long ball that led to the opening goal on 28 minutes. Sporting worked the ball back across the midfield to Sinovic on the left. Joseph could only help his former New England teammate’s cross on to Kamara at the back post. Zusi arrived in the 6-yard box to scramble his drilled cross into the net.

Sapong almost doubled the lead four minutes later when Sporting’s high pressing allowed Convey to dispossess Joseph on the halfway line. The former Reading winger’s early pass sent Sapong through on goal. His shot was blocked by Reis.

A flowing four-man, seven-touch move highlighted Sporting’s attacking verve on 36 minutes. Goalkeeper Nielsen gathered Joseph’s headed attempt and immediately released Convey on the left with Espinoza and Zusi breaking in support. The two midfielders exchanged passes to send the Honduran through on goal. Clyde Simms just did enough to put Espinoza off balance as he prepared to shoot.

Simms Miss Ends The Revolution

Simms didn’t do so well at the other end one minute later. Besler failed to track the midfielder’s run as Nguyen played a crafty reverse pass into Sporting’s penalty area. The former D.C. United man had space to take a touch. He blazed a first-time shot into the crowd behind Nielsen’s goal. It was a massive chance that could have had a significant bearing on the game’s outcome.

Instead, the contest was effectively over two minutes later. Sinovic played a one-two with Convey to advance to the byline after initially feinting to cross from a deeper position. Reis fumbled his attempt to intercept the cross and Kamara slammed the loose ball into the net at the second attempt.

Any lingering thoughts that Heaps had about revitalizing his team after the interval evaporated in the 47th minute. Again it was Sporting’s intelligent movement that carved New England’s defense apart.

Convey’s quick throw from the left was moved on by Espinoza and Julio Cesar to Zusi at the edge of the box. The recent U.S. national team debutant chipped the ball between two defenders to the overlapping Sinovic, and Sapong gleefully smashed the defender’s cut-back beyond Reis.

Conclusion

It’s unfair to judge New England’s performance given that they played with 10 men for 76 minutes. Heaps’ side still created a couple of gilt-edged chances that should have put them in front or tied the game at 1-1.

Sporting’s offensive movement and combinations continue to impress. They will switch off defensively now and again and give up chances. Feilhaber and Simms failed to punish Myers and Besler on this occasion.