Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake thoughts: How important can Bobby Convey be?

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Bobby Convey made his first major contribution to Sporting Kansas City last weekend, providing the assist on Kei Kamara’s winning goal against LA Galaxy. When Western Conference-leading Real Salt Lake visits Livestrong Park this weekend, Convey’s wide play and service could again be influential, if we can read anything from how the two teams play.

Thankfully, as we try to do that, we’re dealing with two of the more predictable sides in Major League Soccer. Peter Vermes is going to toss out three attackers and three midfielders, with Graham Zusi playing midfield in advance of Roger Espinoza and Julio César. Jason Kreis always plays two forwards on top of a four-midfielder diamond – Kyle Beckerman at the base, and (when healthy) Javier Morales at the tip.

For RSL, their formation makes width is a constant issue. Whether it’s Will Johnson, Ned Grabavoy, or Sebastián Velásquez starting between Beckerman and Morales, Kreis eschews a traditional flank players, meaningsomeone like Chance Myers can do some damage as he gets forward from KC’s right fullback position to combine with Kei Karama. I’m sure that’s a comforting thought for Chris Wingert.

If RSL maintains enough pressure on Sporting, Myers’ chances to get forward could be managed. On KC’s left, however, Sporting’s most effective wide player, Convey, is already forward.

While I keep mentioning how Convey is probably out of place as a left-sided attacker in Vermes’s 4-3-3, on Saturday, it can be used to Kansas City’s advantage. With Sporting likely to have their hands full through the midfield (out-numbered four against three in the middle of the park), Convey can serve as a needed relief valve. If KC plays him as more of a left midfielder – a natural role for Convey – they can exploit the space on their left and use their best crosser to target C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara.

It should go without saying that RSL isn’t helpless in this battle. Don’t put it past Will Johnson to do yeoman’s work to pressure Convey. And then there’s PST (and emerging MLS community) favorite Tony Beltran at right back, who could be given the freedom to come forward and mark Convey should the KC wingman’s crosses present a significant problem.

But there are costs: Johnson’s help mitigates RSL’s advantage in the middle, while Beltran’s marking provides space for Kamara and Graham Zusi to exploit.

Every game has these little tactical conflicts, but on Saturday, the match ups are particularly in interesting. Where teams often have to pick and choose their battles, Jason Kreis may be willing to take his chances with Convey rather than open up space for one of KC’s more dangerous players. If he does, Kreis will be giving Convey a chance to make his second big contribution.