The game was called the biggest matchup of the early season by ESPN’s Adrian Healey in the pregame. While this may have been an overstatement, yesterday’s match featured two teams that during the preseason many had as the best in their respective conferences. After 90 minutes, only one looked like an MLS Cup contender.
Sporting KC behind a raucous crowd of 19,000 plus rolled to a 1-0 victory over the LA Galaxy. The Galaxy came into the game without designated player David Beckham but did return Landon Donovan to the line-up. Beckham’s absence, however, was noticeable in a game where the home team had almost 60% of the possession and the Galaxy had no shots on traget (just three shots overall).
Sporting KC’s 4-3-3 possession style seemed to unsettle the Galaxy from the beginning with Roger Espinoza effectively thwarting the Galaxy in the midfield. The game’s only goal came late in the first half when Bobby Convey worked some space on the right and sent in a cross towards goal. Kei Kamara, who had drifted to the left of the goal, beat Sean Franklin and put a diving header past Josh Saunders to make it a 1-0 game. The scoreline could have been even bigger except Saunders had a great diving save on a Chance Myers shot in the 23rd minute where the keeper had to dive and just palm the ball away from goal.
For the first time since 1998, an MLS team has started the season with 5 straight wins. Any doubts about how good Sporting Kansas City can be in all aspects of the game should be settled. On defense, Aurelien Collins had an excellent game on Edson Buddle while his partner (and the entire defense for that matter) bottled up Robbie Keane very well. But the real key to the game was Roger Espinoza, who, rotating from a deep role to a charging forward play maker and back, settled the defense by exploiting a weaker LA midfield and constantly breaking up chances that Juninho and Michael Stephens tried to create. Richard Farley uses OptaJack well to illustrate the gap in effective midfield presence between Juninho and Espinoza.
The defending champs came out punchless yesterday and I think for the first time we can be legitimately worried about this team. They were out-muscled by a larger KC front line and as mentioned before their midfield was simply dominated throughout. It was the stars of the team, however, that failed to shine for the Galaxy. Landon Donovan still looked a bit slow coming off his quad injury while Edson Buddle was a non-factor while he was on the pitch. Taylor Twellman hinted at a potential injury for the forward, which may have explained his poor play. Keane simply didn’t get a chance to do much with the poor distribution but when he did he didn’t create any opportunities. The best player on the pitch for LA may have been Mike Magee, who had the Galaxy’s two best chances and just missed the goal on both. LA fans should be worried that this team looks lethargic already and it is only one month into the season.