I am an American. That's a fact that I've never made an effort to hide on here (you won't see me using British spellings or trying to write in a different voice than my own), but I've also never really advertised it either. I've never had a reason to declare my nationality on this site, and I don't think it matters anyway. I mention it now because I never really thought I would have more than one or two chances to watch this team live when I started rooting for them.* This match didn't matter much at all, being a preseason friendly and everything, but it did matter to me. There wasn't any TV or radio coverage, either here in the States or across the pond, so I took that as an excuse to over-tweet about all of the goings-on (After all, didn't people need to know how Cheik Tiote and Sylvain Marveaux were getting along?), though if I'm honest it was definitely my eagerness that led me to become one of those people that I usually revile.
In other words, this was kind of a big deal for me. I fully realize that, to some people reading this blog, catching a Newcastle game is part of their weekly routine, but not for me.* I was hanging on to every one of those 5400+ seconds, even when both teams were stopping for water breaks in the middle of the action. It was a lot of fun to sing amongst the supporters and yell at the players when they could actually hear me. Perhaps that makes me pathetic or romantic or both. I'm totally fine with that.
*I'm also aware of the people out there who have dismissed this blog because of where we live. Hey, if you're that narrow-minded, that's your loss.
You know what? Enough about me. There was a game, so let's talk about that. I've got a report after the jump.
In the Match Preview, I mentioned that Sporting Kansas City wasn't going to be the walk-over that many were expecting. A win would have been nice for boosting the confidence of the squad, but of course it wasn't essential, and it was clear by the last quarter or so of the match that both sides were quite content to sit on a draw. Action in the first half was very fast-paced with neither team gaining full control for any sustained period of time.
Sporting KC took the opportunity to debut their newest two players, Jeferson and Soony Saad, the former in a starting role as attacking midfielder. Jeferson was by far the most inspiring player on the home side, and his performance may have MLS squads sitting just above SKC in the standings looking over their shoulders. He directed traffic on offense and took several dangerous shots at goal.
The back four did pretty well against the Toon strikers, as they played a very high line. If everything stays the same on the NUFC roster, I believe we will see plenty of this all season long. The compressed space didn't allow a lot of room for the midfield to operate, and though Demba Ba was certainly willing to make several long and diagonal runs, it was clear that he lacked the pace to pull away from the defenders.
Because the middle was congested, the wingers did have a lot to do. Cheik Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa did well to distribute the ball wide, and Sylvain Marveaux in particular was causing all kinds of problems on the left side. Both Marveaux and HBA managed to weave their way through the defense, only to struggle to pull the trigger at the end.
Defensively, the Magpies were a little too porous for comfort, but much of that has to do with the odd placement of Jonas Gutierrez at left back. Alan Pardew was likely just experimenting with different options to replace Jose Enrique Sanchez (right? RIGHT?!), and it's safe to say that this experiment failed. Jonas actually does an adequate job of defending when he's playing a support role from the midfield position, but it was painfully obvious that he is not comfortable being the last line of defense. He made several ill-advised decisions in going for 50-50 balls when he should have hung back and generally looked out of position. Sporting Kansas City, to their credit, recognized this almost immediately and their attack became very right-handed. They were seemingly able to cross from that side at will. Fortunately, Fabricio Coloccini did a fantastic job of covering for Jonas' indiscretions when necessary. Even with all that activity, Tim Krul was hardly tested in open play until the second half, when Jonas had already moved up to his normal spot on the left wing.
Of course, the big story was Hatem Ben Arfa's injury as a result of a late hard tackle from Roger Espinoza. The extent of the injury is still not known (though rampant speculation is definitely out there if you look for it; I've seen everything from "He'll be running tomorrow" to "He's out a minimum of 8 weeks"), but in terms of avoiding injury, this friendly was once again a failure.
- Tim Krul made 2 or 3 impressive diving stops, including one to save the result in the closing minutes. He was also content to distribute the ball to the defenders, which I was very pleased to see.
Dan Gosling is fine. He left the pitch after a head knock holding a towel to his head, then ran back on a few minutes later and played well into the second half.
- Peter Lovenkrands played withdrawn from Ba and was largely invisible. I'm starting to believe that he receives a bonus if he touches the ball less than 20 times per game.
- Mehdi Abeid was one of the only Newcastle players playing full speed in the last 15-20 minutes. He seemed a bit eager and overran some plays, but I suppose that's better than lazy.
- Ryan Taylor was very solid at right back, which is his natural position. I like Danny Simpson okay, but if Taylor can be sound in his positioning, I will absolutely support his regular inclusion in the XI.