New England Soccer Today

Kansas City Clogs the Midfield

Revolution midfielder Ryan Guy came on in the second half to spell Chad Barrett in Saturday's 0-0 draw against Sporting K.C. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Revolution midfielder Ryan Guy came on in the second half to spell Chad Barrett in Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Sporting K.C. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

By Kevin Koczwara

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Physicality has been Sporting Kansas City’s calling card since Peter Vermes took over as head coach in 2008, and there was no shortage of it in their 0-0 draw with the New England Revolution on Saturday night. Vermes set up his team to clog the midfield and force the Revolution to play down the flanks, something the Revs haven’t been particularly good at in the past few seasons.

Jay Heaps, short his best forward option with Jerry Bengtson on international duty with Honduras, put out an attack-minded starting XI with Chad Barrett playing in front of Juan Toja, who was flanked by Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen on either side him. With Scott Caldwell playing in the deepest midfield position, Clyde Simms pushed forward when his chances arrived. But, for the most part, New England was forced into uncomfortable passes and long-balls towards an isolated Barrett because of Kansas City’s physicality and numbers in the midfield.

“Kansas City really presses hard in the midfield right when it gets in to the center position, defensively especially. They really press hard and try to pinch the ball and attack from there. They do a pretty good job of it,” Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell told the media after the game.

“The way [Kansas City] play they disrupt, they do a very good job of disrupting their opponents, and it’s tough to play against them. I thought we did a good enough job, we created a few chances and did alright,” he continued.

Kansas City was one of the toughest teams in Major League Soccer to break down in 2012 and it’s identity as a physical team that likes to press and pinch opponents high-up the field has stuck around for the 2013 season. They pressed and swarmed in numbers whenever the Revolution tried to play through the middle of the midfield. Kansas City’s hunting in packs forced New England to play the ball over the top because space to turn and pass was nonexistent for midfielders.

“I think that, for me, Kansas City is one of the best teams at grinding out a game like that,” said Heaps after the game. “And I think that it showed a lot of our guys coming out and fighting them and making it a difficult battle.”

While Barrett did well to run down balls over the top in the blustery wind, he didn’t have enough support or chances to get on the end of any quality balls to create any chances on goal in his 60-plus minutes of play, and it’s not his fault. Kansas City forced New England to play on the flanks. They dared the Revolution to get the ball wide and push past Seth Sinovic on the left and Mechack Jerome on the right. New England’s wing players, Rowe and Nguyen, for the most part aren’t burners who try to get to the touchline and cross the ball. They’re much better on the ball and trying to work quick-one-twos with teammates, which is what Kansas City wanted them to try and do. Because of the lack of space Kansas City allowed in the midfield — and persistent fouling, 20 in total — tight passing wasn’t much of an option for the Revs.

How to clog the midfield

Kansas City came out in a 4-3-3 with Sony Saad and C.J. Sapong on with side of the physical Claudio Bieler. But Sapong was often tucked inside and played closer to the midfield for most of the game, joining Benny Fielhaber, Paulo Nagamura and Oriol Rosell in the center of the field, giving KC four players in the center of the midfield. Sapong’s physicality and ability to win the ball helped Kansas City close down space around Scott Caldwell and Clyde Simms when they were trying to link play from defense to attack, forcing New England’s defenders to try and play balls to Barrett in the air or down a channel to Ryan Guy when he came on in the second half.

The other part of Kansas City’s midfield play was the work between Saad and Feilhaber on the left side of the field.

Saad often stayed wide and looked to try and get behind rookie Revolution defender Andrew Farrell when he tried to make an overlapping run while Feilhaber closed down Nguyen or Rowe, or whoever was playing on that side for New England. Having Saad press up the field and look for space on turnovers forced Nguyen and Rowe to be cautious when in possession because they knew Farrell wanted to dribble and get forward from his defensive position, which meant they couldn’t stretch Sinovic.

Guy’s introduction

New England didn’t have a single shot until the 77th minute of the game because Barrett isn’t a player who can run behind a defense like Kansas City’s. Even though Barrett battled well and got the team six corners, he just doesn’t run in the channel very effectively. Heaps praised his work-ethic, but he also mentioned that Barrett still isn’t fully fit and is just over an illness. But, with all that said, when Barrett came off and Guy came on in the second half, New England was able to find more space because of his movement and ability to drag defenders out of their comfort zones with that movement.

Guy is a winger who likes to run behind defenders and use his pace as well as his shiftiness to challenge defenses.

Now, Guy didn’t get much of a chance to change the game because of Kansas City’s physical play — a bloody gash above his eye in the first eight seconds didn’t help him get in the game — but when he was on the field he was able to force Kansas City to worry about him running in behind. He was also able to pull defenders with him from side-to-side, which opened up space for Toja, Rowe and Nguyen to play the ball quickly.

New England’s Defense

This was the kind of game that often slipped away from the Revs over the past few seasons. New England played hard and fought, and deserved a point at the least. Kansas City had one real good chance, but didn’t pose too many problems going forward otherwise. In the past, New England would have cracked and that one mistake would broken their backs. Instead, the chance was deflected off the crossbar by Clyde Simms and New England hung on for a much deserved point. While not generating much going forward, New England was stout in the midfield and A.J. Soares and Jose Goncalves didn’t allow an inch.

“I think our back four played well but not just our back four, our entire midfield defended well,” said Heaps.


This was an ugly game. The wind was definitely a factor. Now, it wasn’t like the blizzard conditions that took center stage during the U.S.- Coast Rica World Cup Qualifier, but it was enough to force both teams to rethink how they approached the game. It’s effect showed up the in stat sheet: New England completed just 58.5 percent of its passes while Sporting Kansas City completed 56.9 percent.

This wasn’t a game tape coaches will use anytime soon to show their teams how to play.

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