Sporting Kansas City are in that mode where when one thing goes wrong, it all goes wrong, and right now, their attack seems to be a real-life example of Murphy's law.
Earlier in the 2019 season, Sporting’s attack almost guaranteed goals every time out, as they tallied in their first eight league games. If they had a chance, it was a good bet they would bag it.
But through numerous injuries, suspensions and international call-ups, the frontline took its lumps and has stalled out in the summer.
What might be the most frustrating thing for Sporting is that they really haven’t gone without their chances. Sporting forward Krisztian Nemeth talked about that fact with MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday.
“Sometimes soccer is crazy,” Nemeth said. “Sometimes everything goes in, even off your back or when you don’t expect to score. And sometimes you need just one goal and everything will change, and you have to fight for that luck again. So we have to still believe it. We create chances, which is a positive. It’s not like they’re not there.”
Over their last seven games they’ve scored seven goals, scored two or more in a game only once, and were kept scoreless twice. Despite that, they’ve still managed to create enough chances to give themselves a collective 13.1 expected goals (xG) over that seven-game stretch. Basically, with the amount and quality of chances they’ve created over that stretch, they would've been expected to score almost almost twice as many goals.
Johnny Russell lamented their finishing over the current stretch.
“You have to look at the chances we have created, we have to start taking them,” Russell said. “It’s not down to the number of chances we’ve been creating. If you look at chances created, shots for, especially at home in the last three or four games, it’s a crazy amount. Obviously the conversion rate isn’t anywhere near good enough, and that’s up to us as a team, and especially us the attackers. We’ve got to put that right. That’s our job, that’s why we’re here.”
Looking at their shots for, they’ve taken 111 shots over that stretch and put 38 of them on target, which means about 34% of their shots have been on target. Last season, in which Sporting broke their club record for goals scored in a year, they put shots on target at a 35% clip.
Is the pressure of an unfamiliar place in the standings, 10th in the West, this late in the season getting to them? Nemeth acknowledged that pressure is there.
“It’s not easy,” Nemeth said, “Especially when the team needs it. So I can say my part, the last four or five games, I have one chance every game where I should score. It’s not easy because the team needs points, the team needs wins so every chance that we create, it’s very hard to create it and then you miss it, it’s not the best feeling, you know what I mean? So it’s important that we finish every chance, especially in the situation that we are in.”
So it might be just this simple. They’re not putting the ball in the back of the net despite their high amount of chances. Sporting Manager Peter Vermes was asked on Tuesday if he thought this group was capable of turning it around and putting away their chances. His response?
“Just a year ago, with the same group of guys basically, we had a center forward last year that scored two goals for the whole year and we scored the most goals in our entire history. I don’t know what to tell you. The guys are here, but they have to put the ball in the back of the net,” he said.
When asked if confidence was starting to become a part of it at this point, Vermes said, “Sure. But it’s not just that, it is so many different things. But that could be a part of it.”
So where does the confidence lay within the group at the moment? Russell offered his opinion on the current mental state of the group.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve lost confidence,” Russell said. “It comes down to uncharacteristic mistakes that we’ve been making. The goal scoring chances, so when they’re not happening, we seem to be getting punished for the mistakes we’re making in the moment. Maybe before, maybe we wouldn’t get punished for it, whereas now teams are punishing us for it.”
When things don’t go your way, it can be easy to let it snowball, and Nemeth believes if they continue to work hard, the goals will start to come for the frontline, and eventually the results.
“It makes you stronger mentally,” Nemeth said. “Because if something isn’t going your way, you have to go everyday still to train and play the game, even if something is wrong. You have to show up, work hard, and work for the luck again. So if you keep believing and working, at some point, it will turn around and go your way.”