Drilling down on: at Sporting Kansas City 2, Chicago 0

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Man of the match: That early goal was so much harder than it looked. Graham Zusi, moving at full speed and shooting across his body with the right foot, was still able to strike that ball so sweetly. He found good spots in the offense over the first 60 minutes, before Chicago found more of the ball. And then the home team’s creator and dead ball provider had just enough left to pounce on a second ball near the end and seal the win with another well-placed ball past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Packaged for take-away:

  • Such a highly charged atmosphere for this one. It definitely had that something extra, that playoff-level intensity.
  • Referee Chris Penso doesn’t look prepared to handle these high-velocity, high-frenzy matches. I’ll have more on his night later, in a separate post.
  • Sporting Kansas City clinched a playoff spot with the win. Just as importantly (because we pretty much knew SKC would get into the post-season), the home team keeps pressure on San Jose for the Supporters Shield.
  • Across the wing from Zusi, Kei Kamara had a great match as well. It was his dribbling and brawny ability to hold off a challenge that set up Zusi for that highly important first goal. Afterward, Kamara did tons of tracking. He won second balls. He occupied defenders. And in the game’s final 30 minutes, as the home team dropped off some, Kamara’s hold-up work along the front lines allowed Kansas City to maintain some offensive push, even as Chicago enjoyed more of the late possession.
  • Lawrence Olum made a surprise start ahead of All-Star SKC center back Aurelien Collin, who was available and on the bench.
  • The Home team’s offense benefitted from C.J. Sapong’s good hold-up work, which the Fire wasn’t getting enough of from Sherjill MacDonald.
  • Kansas City’s early, relentless pressing was working to perfection. The visitors just could not deal with the pressure in midfield, so the connections between Alex and Logan Pause and their attackers never materialized.
  • As always, Roger Espinoza in the primary energy provider, the chief havoc and mayhem maker in midfield.
  • And interesting situation developed in the 44th minute when Kamara carelessly gave away a ball in midfield. Chicago pounced and MacDonald was off and running, bearing down on Jimmy Nielsen’s left side. It looked like he made a big mistake when he played a lateral ball rather than shooting, failing to find any teammate near and squandering the chance. But going back and looking at the sequence, here’s why: SKC midfielder Paulo Nagamura completely eliminated Chris Rolfe’s run, crushing the Fire attacker from behind.
  • Penso just has to be more aware there, or the backside referee’s assistant has to alert the man in the middle.
  • Because the home team plays at a higher tempo, essentially doing everything quicker, they were always faster to the second balls.
  • Chicago never really found the pace and tempo needed to deal with Kansas City’s pressing. But they did slip into the game; SKC simply cannot apply the highest level of pressure over 90 minutes. In fact, that ability to apply the super-relentless stuff had dropped by early in the second half, which allowed Chicago to get a foothold on the game.
  • After an hour, Fire manager Frank Klopas replaced Alex with Dominic Oduro, shifting away from the 4-2-3-1 and into a 4-4-2, with Rolfe dropping out of the hole behind MacDonald and into a central, partnering role with Logan Pause.
  • Guillermo Franco replaced Nyarko in the 70th minute. It was not only his first MLS minutes, these were the former Mexican international’s first minutes on a soccer field (competitively, that is) since May.
  • Klopas signed Franco for just this, the ability to come in for 20-or-so minutes to be a game-changer. He very nearly did so in the 80th minute, doing a little dribbling weave through the Kansas City penalty area but not being able to get any more than a corner kick.