Sporting KC have extended Diego Rubio’s contract and offered a new deal to Khiry Shelton. Neither, though, are the solution to KC’s striking problem.
Sporting Kansas City have had a striking problem for many years. Peter Vermes’ sides have always been defensively well drilled, positionally disciplined, hard-working and very, very difficult to beat indeed. They regularly boasted the defensive record in MLS.
But goals were a problem. Specifically, goals from the striking department were a problem.
This season, it looked as though the completeness of the rest of the team might make up for their lack of striking proficiency. Johnny Russell arrived in the offseason and notched ten goals and ten assists. Daniel Salloi emerged as a regular starter on the left flank with the ability to score. While Felipe Guttierez could always be relied upon to chip in a few from central midfield.
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These diversified threats helped to spread the threat that Sporting KC posed opposing defences. But they still lacked that 20-goal-a-season centre-forward who could also hold-up the ball, occupy defenders, and provide a focal point for the attack. And when the playoffs came to be, it was this that cost them. Again.
For most of the season, it was Diego Rubio and Khiry Shelton that led the KC line. Both have very specific skill sets and they have been valuable to the KC team this season, but neither have the rounded and complete ability to lead the line on their own.
Rubio, for instance, is a pure goal getter. Only Josef Martinez has a higher goals-per-90-minute ratio in MLS than Rubio, once all those who benefit from extremely small sample sizes are weeded out of the equation. But the Chilean does not offer much else to the team. He struggles with his back to goal, his touch is a little inconsistent, and he relies heavily on service from the midfield.
Shelton, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite. He has great athleticism and dribbling skills. He will work the channels, run defenders into spaces they do not want to go, open up passing lanes and opportunities for his teammates to exploit. But he does not have the same knack for scoring goals. He notched only two in 1370 regular season minutes in 2018.
KC have decided to keep Rubio for another season, taking up his year-long contract option on Friday. They have also reached out to Shelton with an offer for the 2019 season. The forward’s contract is set to expire, but there is clearly a desire from Vermes and the club to keep him at Children’s Mercy Park.
But neither Rubio or Shelton are the solution to KC’s striking problems. They only offer one facet of the position and you cannot play the two together without sacrificing control from the midfield, something that KC builds their play upon. In fact, it would perhaps be a more accurate statement to say that both are perfect illustrations of those problems, not answers. That is not to say that they are unuseful players. But they are not playoff-winning centre-forwards.
Vermes has overlooked this issue for far too long. It has cost him and his team in the playoffs year after year. It did again this season. It is time to invest in a proper solution. And Rubio and Shelton are not it.