Through 10 games, Sporting KC’s been both brilliant and bumbling. So what gives?

Peter Vermes often says you don’t know what you have in a team until you’ve hit the 10-game mark.

Sporting Kansas City hit that 10-game mark with a 2-1 loss at Minnesota United on Saturday. With a record of 2-3-5, Sporting KC has 11 points, ranking 10th place in the Western Conference standings for Major League Soccer.

This week, ahead of a road match at Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.), Sporting KC manager Vermes assessed his team’s performance thus far.

“I think we got a good group,” he said. “They’ve shown they can attack, and, for the most part, they’ve shown that they actually can defend really well as a group.”

“It’s a dangerous group,” he added.

Here are 10 things we’ve learned about this Sporting KC team:

1. Sporting KC doesn’t have much of a problem finding the net.

Sporting KC has scored 18 goals, and an average of 1.8 goals per game is pacing toward a club record for goals in a season.

And KC is scoring by committee. Eight different players have scored this season, and they’ve done so in a variety of ways.

2. Set-piece production has been fruitful.

Seven of the team’s 18 goals have come from set-piece situations.

For context, Sporting has scored eight goals from set pieces in each of the last three seasons. So how do you get nearly a season’s worth of set-piece production through 10 games?

First things first, it’s about service. Memo Rodriguez has two assists, taking corner kicks directly, and several of Sporting’s set pieces have been assisted by plays designed to get the ball back across goal.

“You have to have committed runners, but you have to be disciplined in the way that you follow your assignment,” Vermes said. “If you’re not if any of those things (service, committed runners, discipline), then you’re not successful.”

3. Sporting KC’s set-piece defense has been leaky.

Vermes said he wishes the team was better at defending set pieces. Some larger defensive trends are just as concerning, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Sporting is not the worst team in the league when it comes to defending set pieces. But of the four set-piece goals that Kansas City has conceded, only one resulted directly from the play itself: Minnesota’s first-half goal. The other three were conceded after the initial danger posed by the service had been dealt with.

Either the quality of the initial clearance isn’t good enough, or Sporting KC doesn’t close down the second chance that comes from it.

How does KC fix that?

“Commitment and concentration,” Vermes said.

4. The defense has been very good ... and very bad.

In half of Sporting’s matches, Vermes’ team has conceded one goal (or none) — four combined. In the other half, they’ve conceded 14 goals — including four straight home matches in which they conceded three.

That’s not good.

Vermes is more concerned about how those goals were conceded. His team clearly can defend well for stretches. The problem is how often that stout defense switches on and off.

Vermes said commitment and concentration help explain KC’s inconsistent set-piece defense. This must improve because those lapses have been costly.

5. Dropped points from winning positions, especially at home? Costly.

Let’s dig into just how costly those mistakes have been.

Sporting KC has held a lead in eight of 10 games played this season. Seven of those leads were in the second half of matches. Sporting KC has trailed for just 17% of its match minutes this season and led 36% of the time.

Yet Sporting KC has just two wins to show for it. A total of 15 points have been lost from winning positions. Add that to the 11 KC has been able to earn, and 26 points would have this team sitting in first place in the Western Conference. In fact, Sporting would be ahead by eight points — the equivalent of two wins and a draw.

Instead, Vermes and Co. are stuck below the current playoff line.

7. The team has tactical flexibility, but at what cost?

Sporting KC has rarely strayed from its tried-and-true 4-3-3 formation over the course of Vermes’ tenure.

However, injuries forced the team to adopt a different tactical approach, one that’s produced some interesting results. In four matches with the 4-2-3-1, Sporting KC is 0-2-2, scoring eight goals and conceding 11. In the 4-3-3, Sporting’s record is 2-1-3, with 10 goals scored and seven conceded.

With a healthy Johnny Russell forcing Erik Thommy inside to play as the number 10, a more natural fit for the position than Alan Pulido at the moment, maybe the results look a little different in the 4-2-3-1.

Fans frequently want to see Sporting KC change things up more often. But in the team’s current state, it might be better to stick with a tried-and-true approach.

8. Sporting KC still needs an addition in the midfield.

Gadi Kinda’s presence is actually missed the most in the 4-2-3-1. He excelled when Sporting snuck that formation into games during last year’s playoff series with St. Louis.

Having a true number 10 able to replace Thommy when he shifts out wide in Russell’s absence would help KC solve its numbers issues in the midfield when Pulido is dropped in as the 10.

Take Sporting’s second-half performance against St. Louis as an example: Down 2-1 at the half, Sporting KC brought Russell on for William Agada and moved Thommy into the midfield. This brought Sporting back to the ol’ 4-3-3. Kansas City “won” that stretch of the game 2-1 and, if not for a late St. Louis goal, the tactical switch would’ve netted a victory.

Even in the absence of Pulido and/or Russell, having a true number 10 — a true midfielder and replacement for Kinda — would give Sporting even greater tactical flexibility, and maybe greater execution.

Look for this position to be a target during the summer transfer window.

9. Logan Ndenbe’s defense is greatly missed.

Ndenbe’s defensive attributes as a left-back are sorely missed. What Tim Leibold offers going forward hasn’t been the same on the defensive side of the ball. Opposing teams routinely attack the space behind him.

Leibold is a solid player, but right now Sporting KC misses Ndenbe’s defensive presence inside the box and management of spaces left open for opponents.

10. This team is better than the 2023 edition.

There is plenty for fans to be frustrated about. But at the 10-game mark last season, if you’ll recall, Russell was lamenting that he wasn’t quite sure how the team was going to fix things.

Sporting KC was 0-7-3 and had scored just three goals. Then Russell and company grabbed a road win in a tough environment and the spark for a turnaround was lit.

The situation is not that bad this time around. With some defensive tinkering, Sporting KC could shoot back up the standings even before the summer transfer window.