Quintero Aftermath vs. SKC

In the Moment: Creating Space

A lot goes down on the pitch in any given match. Each week, we’ll be talking to a player about one specific play from last week’s match and letting them give an inside view of the play as it developed.

This week, we took a lot at Darwin Quintero’s goal from the match against Sporting Kansas City with a particular emphasis on the Miguel Ibarra cross that set it up. We spoke with Miguel and will also spend some time on the broader tactical approach that led to the goal.

It might seem like soccer — and perhaps sports in general — is about playing the way you want and keeping the opponent from playing the way they want. And it can be, but it can also be about using what the opponent wants to do against them. No tactic, after all, is without its risk-reward calculation. Going into the match, one thing the Loons knew about Sporting Kansas City is that fullbacks Graham Zusi and Jimmy Medranda would be pushing up on the pitch. This would leave space out wide and the creation of space and its exploitation is the bread and butter of a good attack.

Miguel Ibarra: We knew that their outside backs stay up high. The whole game for me was getting in behind the defenders. In the first half, I knew Medranda was staying up high so attacking that space was really big.

Less than a minute before the play that led to the goal, Ibarra was attacking Medranda down the wing.

As soon as Ibarra plays the ball into Christian Ramirez, he spins off Medranda’s shoulder and trucks down the wing. His cross gets cut off by goalkeeper Tim Melia, but midfielder Darwin Quintero is also double covered by defenders Ike Opara and Zusi. Take note of midfielder Ilie Sanchez, who is trailing the play and pulls up at the edge of the box.

At the start of the buildup to the goal, you can see that Ibarra is sitting in between Medranda and centerback Matt Besler. When Quintero drops back to receive the pass from midfielder Alexi Gomez, he has a lot of space in front of him to run.

Ibarra: I’m already understanding how he likes to play and where he likes to grab the ball. So if he goes into that space, I stay out wide and if he is out wide then I go into that hole.

As Quintero moves up the pitch, Medranda steps to him and the moment he does, Ibarra cuts out wide and receives the pass from Quintero. That means Besler has to peel off to chase him, leaving Ramirez in single coverage with Opara as Ibarra prepares to cross it.

Ibarra: All I was thinking was getting it past Christian and hoping someone would go into that little hole right there.

You can see here that Sanchez is watching the ball and loses track of Quintero, who has cut back inside and onto Sanchez’s shoulder. Sanchez again pulls up, perhaps thinking that Opara and Zusi will have the space between the penalty spot and the six-yard box covered. But Ramirez’s move toward the near post has pulled Opara away from that spot and Zusi has held up, perhaps concerned about Gomez coming in from the left.

That creates enough space right at the top of the six-yard box for Quintero to knife in and put a header on goal — a chance that “surprised” the 5-foot-5-inch Quintero, according to Ibarra. Melia bobbles the ball and lets it drop in front of him. With the SKC defenders having already given up on the play, Quintero is wide open to finish off the goal with the Sagat-style Tiger Knee.

Sixteen minutes after Quintero's goal, Medranda was subbed out for Seth Sinovic, a move that helped to plug that space on the right wing. But it also changed how SKC approached the match offensively, and likely played a part in the 1-1 draw the match ended as.