Sporting Kansas City is a perennial contender in the Western Conference. It's not just that Peter Vermes' team keeps the talent it develops, it's that Vermes has consistently built new and interesting ideas onto a consistent set of principles. A high line, a team-based attack, and putting numbers into the box once you get in position to serve it in.
Since they sent Dom Dwyer to Orlando City in a move that netted enough MLS money to re-sign the rest of their core, KC has been able to create a powerful attack without a true centerpiece. From Kei Kamara to Benny Feilhaber to Dom Dwyer to Russell-Salloi-Espinoza-Rubio. This is a difficult team to contain because any player can take the reins of the attack on any day.
Oh say can Zusi
One of the more intriguing aspects of KC's season has been the use of right back Graham Zusi in a narrow attacking role. When Sporting has control of a game, they can slide Zusi high and narrow to create an extra man in the center. This helps Vermes' men get extra bodies forward toward the box. Additionally, it means that KC has more men high up the pitch to press after losing the ball. According to WhoScored.com, Sporting plays over 1/3 of each game in the opponent's defensive third and only 24% of the game in their own defensive area. This allows the Western Conference heavyweights to turn the ball over near the goal they are attacking and quickly transition into a dangerous shooting position.
High line and strong back four
The foundation of Vermes' teams is an intelligent back line and a ground-munching central midfielder, and the 2018 iteration definitely has all that. Ike Opara and Matt Besler control the middle while Zusi and Seth Sinovic patrol the flanks. Ilie Sanchez is cover in front, with versatile Roger Espinoza in support. As a unit, these players remain very compact and high up the pitch to give opponents very little space in which to operate. The front players then press and look to force vertical passes up the wings that can be attacked and turned over.
There are few more difficult opponents than Sporting KC, but there are also few more exciting. Check out this rematch of the 2015 US Open Cup final Sunday, September 23rd at 1PM EST at Talen Energy Stadium.