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Massive Scouting Report: Sporting Kansas City

Two of Major League Soccer’s best clash on Memorial Day weekend.

MLS: Sporting KC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC are back on the road this week to take on Sporting Kansas City on Sunday night for a rare national television appearance. Last week, the Black & Gold found a way to grind out a hard fought 1-0 victory against the New England Revolution. Columbus has a difficult task this week of facing an in-form Kansas City side and a talented front three.

SKC come into this fixture following an impressive 2-0 win against Atlanta United and a draw against Minnesota United. That wasn’t good enough for SKC forward Johnny Russell who expressed disappointment following the draw.

“There’s always that disappointment. We had a few chances that we could have snatched the game,” Russell said in an interview with MLSSoccer.com. “You always feel when you play well in games and don’t come away with victories that it’s disappointing. For where we want to go and what we want to do this season, we really need to be winning as many games as we can. That’s the most disappointing thing about today.”

Sporting looks to maintain form at home against the Black & Gold this Sunday. Let’s take a look at what head coach Gregg Berhalter and his team can expect.

Sporting Kansas City at a glance:

Form: L-W-W-D

Leading Scorer: Two players tied with five goals

Assists Leader: Two players tied with four assists

The Press

Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes receives tremendous production from his offense this season. Sporting sits in third place in Major League Soccer in goals scored and this can be attributed to the high press that Vermes has established. The reason the press is successful is the quality scoring chances it generates for forwards Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton, Daniel Salloi.

The three forwards attack as a cohesive unit and move in sync with one another. Often the wing players (Salloi and Russell) make diagonal runs away from goal to open up space for Shelton to work in the middle. However, there is a shift in the attacking movement when a shot is fired on net. All three players surround the six-yard box, looking for the secondary opportunities.

Khiry Shelton

Following an injury plagued 2017 campaign that saw Shelton play just 15 times, many thought the former New York City FC striker’s best days were behind him. Vermes saw something in the 24 year old and made a trade for the forward in December of 2017.

The change of scenery has done wonders for the young striker. Vermes’ unique offense helps ease the burden on Shelton and doesn’t make him the sole offensive weapon. This allows the Shelton to play with confidence and move freely about the attacking third. A confident striker could spell bad news for the opposition.

Defense

Not only are Sporting recognized for playing great team soccer, but are equally imposing on defense. SKC rank third in the league this season in goals conceded (11) and possesses a winning formula with its back four.

Jimmy Madranda, Matt Besler, Ike Opara and Graham Zusi provide the winning defensive recipes for Kansas City. Teams tend to overlook Zusi and Madranda and allow them to run free on the pitch. The outside backs tend to press high up the field and look to get service into the final third. This allows the aforementioned forwards to work their magic and look to bury quality opportunities.

Sporting Kansas City heat map against Minnesota United last weekend

How Crew SC win

It’s possible fans will see Berhalter employ a similar system like the one the Black & Gold laid out last Saturday against the Revs. Crew SC should look to move the ball quickly and concisely in the attack.

SKC’s system tends to let the opposing outside backs roam free, but with looming threats such as Harrison Afful and Milton Valenzuela, it will be intriguing to see what adjustments Kansas City make to counter the agile Crew SC fullbacks.

For Columbus to be successful this weekend, the defense needs to turn in another solid performance. Sporting prefer to utilize a 4-3-3 formation and use a high press. This puts tremendous pressure on opposing defenses and really has a tendency to cause chaos at the back. SKC also use their full backs to advance the ball up the field. Crew SC need to keep a constant eye on Shelton, Russell, and Sallo to avoid fishing the ball out of its own net.

It’s no secret that Sporting looks to get the ball wide, the Black & Gold need to remain compact and keep their shape. If they allow Kansas City to pull them apart and exploit space, it could be a poor showing on Sunday evening.