To get everyone ready for Atlanta United’s matchup against the Western Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City, we spoke with The Blue Testament’s Cody Bradley to get his take on Peter Vermes’ approach this season, their biggest weakness, and the injury to star player Felipe Gutierrez.
DSS: This season, Sporting K.C. doesn’t appear to be the same defensive-minded team we’ve come to know over the past few years, as they’ve opted for a more attacking approach. What’s been the biggest difference in Peter Vermes’ philosophy?
BT: I don’t think Peter has really changed anything in his philosophy. To be honest, some fans in KC will laugh at the suggestion he has changed (that is the one dig you often hear about Vermes, although I disagree). This is still very much a defensive minded team and any team coach by him always will be. They’ve got four shutouts in the last six matches and allowed fewer goals than all but three Western Conference teams. The difference is that this year, they can actually score. There is simply more talent and attacking prowess going forward. It was a very busy offseason for SKC and they are much more versatile than in years past. This has allowed the attack to be more free flowing. Another aspect is that his outside backs are converted midfielders/forwards, so they very much enjoy a chance on goal.
Over the last several years this team has slightly evolved. They were for a long time a relentless, fast paced, high press team that would send it up to Dom Dwyer to do something crazy, but it progressed into a more controlled approach. They want to dominate possession, dictate the pace of play and eventually work out an opening. Dwyer was no longer as good of a fit for this style and that is why Vermes was happy to get that money in return, but the bottom line for every player on a Vermes field is that they better do every single ounce of defensive work, all the way up to the striker, or they simply won’t play.
DSS: If you had to pick one thing, what’s SKC’s biggest weakness?
BT: Well this was actually not that easy to pick. This is a bit of a weird team. They have the second most goals scored in the league, but Khiry Shelton, the striker, does not have a single one of those. The striker can’t score. That seems like a weakness. They scored six goals just a couple matches ago and it might not matter, but if the trend from the last two matches continues, then it could be a problem. When Khiry the Creator is making goals for others, then it just looks like that is how this team works, but it’s started to get frustrating after some of his missed chances the last two matches where the team has only scored one goal.
However, I am going to answer this with creativity. This is explained more in the next answer, but Sporting KC is missing the maestro, Felipe Gutierrez. This team looked almost unstoppable going forward with him at the helm. While they can still score without him, they are clearly lacking that special moment of brilliance and creativity we saw from him.
DSS: Felipe Gutierrez is out 2-3 months with an injury. How big of a blow is that for SKC and how do you think they compensate for his absence?
BT: Although the team had been playing without him(and winning) for several games before the news broke, it is obviously still a huge blow. He is still tied for the team lead in goals scored at this point, and Peter Vermes hasn’t figured out who the backup attacking midfielder is yet.
Yohan Croizet was set to be the #10, as his jersey suggests, before Felipe became available, but he has been a pretty big disappointment so far. He had one very good match, but has been poor outside of that. Jimmy Medranda was given the start last match and the jury is still out there as well. I think we might see a mix between the two of them going forward, but Sporting KC clearly lacks that same dangerous bite without him on the field. He was the key to finally unlocking a defense after moving the ball around and waiting for the right moment. There is still plenty of goals to be scored by the guys out there, but I’m crossing off days on my calendar until he comes back.