There seems to be something missing with Sporting Kansas City

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Something’s wrong with Sporting Kansas City, which really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. In the offseason, the team lost Kei Kamara to Norwich City, Roger Espinoza to Wigan, and Julio Cesar to Toronto, and while Peter Vermes’ side had the talent to survive, the question was whether they could maintain the high standard they’ve met over the last two seasons.

Through four matches, the answer to that question has been a resounding no. The reigning Eastern Conference champions lost in Toronto on March 9 ahead of two matches which showed an inept team unable to craft decent chances in the final third. In 0-0 draws versus Chicago and at New England, Sporting has only eight shots on goal despite averaging 58.9 percent possession (even though the Revolution had the possession advantage on Saturday).

In fairness, players and coaches were quick to attribute Saturday’s result to the wind in Foxborough, and if Sporting’s disappointments were confined to 90 minutes, the match could be written off. But the team has struggled for all but 45 minutes over four games:  The second half of their opener at Philadelphia. Through the first half in Chester, KC made the Union look potent.

For better or worse, Vermes doesn’t appear to agree that Sporting’s struggling. Here’s what he said after Saturday’s 0-0:

“The weather was horrible and it was a miserable environment to play a game in, but the guys did an excellent job to get out of here with a shutout and a point,” Vermes told the Kansas City Star after the match. In their previous trip to Foxborough, Sporting had beat New England, 1-0.

Kansas City has one of the most talented teams in Major League Soccer, so any time they underperform over a four-game stretch, it’s time to start considering where they may be misfiring. That process may lead to the conclusion that everything’s find, but it’s best to go through it before the result start to catch up with you.

So here are possible factors:

  • Kei Kamara’s gone – The Sierra Leone international wasn’t that great of a finisher, but that may have been the only fault in his game. Physically able to win almost any battle, Kamara also had the athleticism to play wide. He provided a presence in defense and on set pieces. Sporting miss his outlet along the left as they come out of their end. They also miss his presence as a direct option as they fumble for ideas in the final third.
  • C.J. Sapong’s been marginalized – Claudio Bieler’s been fine, but forcing Vermes to find another role fo C.J. Sapong, his addition as been a net loss. At first, it looked like Sapong’s role would be off the bench, but in the last two matches, Sapong’s been back in the XI. Unfortunately, he’s been played wide, and while there’s hope the third year forward could develop into the outlet Kamara was, having him so far from goal eliminates the opportunity for this sometimes blunt attack to rely on a target man.
  • Formation dilemma? – Kansas City’s place atop the East has been fueled by a shift to a 4-3-3 formation, but the current personnel is being shoehorned into the approach, a process that’s producing curious deployments like Sapong out wide. The personnel is screaming for a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, with Graham Zusi supporting Bieler and Sapong while Feilhaber and Paulo Nagamura play ahead of Oriol Rosell. But instead of moving to this system, Vermes has stuck with a 4-3-3 that has forced Sapong wide and players like Bobby Convey and Soony Saad into the starting lineup. Perhaps there’s something Vermes sees in training that precludes the move, but reliant on a 4-3-3, Vermes is trying to force some square pegs into round holes.
  • Espinoza’s gone – It’s unclear how Espinoza’s departure contributes to Sporting’s problems executing in the final third, but it should be acknowledged: Sporting lost one of the best midfielders in Major League Soccer. One possible relation could be how Espinoza helped Sporting win the ball higher up the pitch, allowing his team to attack a team given less chance to settle into its defensive shape.

And there may be entirely different issues. Players could just be under-performing. Perhaps somebody is injured, but the club hasn’t let us know. Maybe this is just a funk.

Regardless, Kansas City has a problem. They’ve played 360 minutes of soccer this season, and they’ve only been good for about 45 of them.

Against a schedule that’s featured Philadelphia, Toronto, Chicago and New England, Sporting should be doing better.

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”

Spurs’ Alderweireld won’t return until February

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Spurs finally got a bit of good news this weekend with a blowout of Stoke City.

That was a followed by a tough draw against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, and bad news on an old injury.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Center back Toby Alderweireld is going to be gone into February, extending his time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury suffered Nov. 1 against Real Madrid.

Spurs were 6-2-2 in league when Alderweireld went down, and are just 2-2-2 since the injury. The Belgian has missed losses at Arsenal and Leicester, draws against Watford and West Brom, and wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke.

Tottenham did win both of its UCL matches since the injury.

Benitez: If we can’t add in January, work gets harder

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Newcastle United has swung from the top half of the table to the fringes of the drop zone, something that hasn’t caught Rafa Benitez off guard.

The veteran manager has not lost sight of his August transfer window shortcomings. He hasn’t dwelled on it in the media, but Benitez is also very cognizant that his team has lacked depth at striker, out wide, and at left back.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

To boot, most of his additions — Mikel Merino, Christian Atsu, Javi Manquillo — haven’t been loaded with experience.

“Some games we are the youngest team in the Premier League. We have to learn quickly. This team is working very hard. Little things we have to improve and we will be stronger.”

“We know our job. Everyone has an opinion. It’s not rocket science – we need players in some positions. If we can, fine, if not, we will have to work harder.”

Newcastle isn’t far away, but it’s woefully short at left back (to the point where it’s best options have been displaced center back Chancel Mbemba and right back Manquillo), and Benitez doesn’t trust Aleksandar Mitrovic up top with Joselu not firing (though Championship star scorer Dwight Gayle may be coming around).

Additions are still needed, and perhaps Benitez is marginally better off that Newcastle didn’t continue overachieving as it did early days.

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Manchester City

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  • Man City leads all-time 22W-4D-7L
  • Swans winless in 11 vs. Man City
  • Last Swans win: 2012 at home

Manchester City can set the Premier League record for consecutive wins in a single season when it visits Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Each side has scored in the last eight meetings between the two in all competitions, which is about the only bit of good news for Paul Clement‘s side outside of their weekend win over West Brom. Man City has dominated the series in recent memory, and really all time.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

And some good news for Man City, too: There won’t be any problem with what they do in their own changing room.

“Like any club, Manchester City are able to play music in their dressing room,” a Swansea City spokesman said following the fracas at the Manchester Derby.

Wilfried Bony will be fired up to face his former club, and he’s coming off a big goal to sink West Brom. He’s going to have a lot in the tank. From the Manchester Evening News:

“Every game I look forward to but it is special to play against your old team. Injuries had an impact on my time at City. When you come from a club where you play every game and then you are playing maybe once a month or two games a month it is completely different.”

Vincent Kompany is out for Man City.

What they’re saying

Swansea City back Alfie Mawson on slowing Man City“I’m very fortunate to test myself against the highest calibre of footballer there is. City are flying this season. They’ve got one of the best managers in the world. We’ve got to find a way to combat them. Every team is finding it hard and I’m sure it’s going to be a very tough game because of the quality and depth they have. We’ve got to be switched on for the entire game, as they’ll punish one lapse in concentration.”

Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne on the 11-point table lead“Lots of teams lost points this weekend so it is a big one for us [the win] just to put more pressure on the rest. We have to enjoy it and then focus again for Wednesday. It is a big gap. If we slip up we are still in the lead. We can’t be complacent. We need to do what we have all year. I prefer to be 11 points ahead than 11 points behind that’s for sure.”

Prediction

The run continues, as Paul Clement prioritizes Saturday’s trip to Everton and City cruises to a 3-0 win.