Thursday, February 05, 2015

A Look at where Sporting's Roster Stands

Preseason is underway for Sporting KC, the team plays their second preseason game of the season this coming weekend in a closed door scrimmage against FC Tucson. With preseason well underway now, and eyes turned towards the 2015 season, I thought I’d take a look at where the roster stands at this point of preseason.

Sporting currently has 25 players under contract for the 2015 MLS season. That list includes two of Sporting’s five draft picks that they selected in this year’s draft. So to take a look, we’ll start in the back.

Signed (3): Jon Kempin, Luis Marin, Tim Melia
Known in camp (2): Matt Bersano (RSL academy), Kevin Corby (St. Louis Ambush)

Sporting has added two new goalkeepers to the roster, gone are long term back up, Eric Kronberg and Kansas City native, Andy Gruenebaum are gone. In comes Chilean international, Luis Marin and league goalkeeper, Tim Melia, who dressed for KC as a league goalkeeper last year. At this point, Sporting looks fairly set at the goalkeeping position. Even though they have a couple goalkeepers in camp with them I can’t see Sporting making any changes here as the team heads into the 2015 season baring an injury. Marin is the clear number one right now and will be the starter for the majority of the games. For me, I think Kempin goes on loan again to Oklahoma City where he’ll be the starter for Jimmy Nielsen and the Energy. But I also think Kempin will be the team’s number 2 goalkeeper. Basically if Marin goes down with an injury I’d expect Kempin to be recalled and start. Melia though will be the every game back up for Peter Vermes and would seem likely to get the US Open Cup games for Kansas City.

Signed (8): Saad Abdul-Salaam, Jalil Anibaba, Matt Besler, Kevin Ellis, Chance Myers, Ike Opara, Erik Palmer-Brown, Seth Sinovic
Known in camp (4): Amadou Dia, Brent Griffiths, Tony Rocha, Daniel Rodriguez

An area of the field where Sporting really needed to improve their depth after last season and all the injury issues the team dealt with on their back line. Gone from the team is MLS All-Star, Aurelien Collin a contract related trade to Orlando City, and Fluminense loanee, Igor Juliao, who has returned to his parent club. The rest of KC’s defenders from last year return, with captain Besler the anchor of central defense. His new central defensive partner is likely to be Opara who recovering from another injury that caused him to miss most of the 2014 season. Behind them is Anibaba who came to Kansas City as part of the Collin deal, Ellis, who had a break out year filling in all over the back line due to all the injuries, and teenager, Palmer-Brown, who could miss time this summer with the U-20 World Cup taking place in New Zealand. At center back, I still feel that KC could stand to add to their depth there. Opara’s health is still a question mark, he’s had a number of injuries over his professional career that has cost him long periods of a season. With Griffiths and Rodriguez currently in camp and getting time against the Portland Timbers last weekend, maybe Vermes sees that need as well.

Out wide, Kansas City has addressed depth a little, specifically on the right side, but there’s still some work that could be done on the left. Myers, the regular starter on the right is still recovering from his Achilles injury last year, and while he may return to the field this year, he may not be the same player again. Anibaba can slide out and play on the right as well; he spent time there over the past few years with both Seattle and Chicago. KC also has the option to push Ellis out wide to the right as well, where he played in the playoff game against New York.  Then there’s Sporting’s second first round pick, Abdul-Salaam, who signed a contract with MLS before the draft. Then there’s the emergency option, Jacob Peterson, who spent time at right back last season as well. With Myers’ recovery from injury this could really be any of the four’s position to grab this season.

Left back though still has some needs behind starter Sinovic. Sporting draft Dia with their third pick of the first round in the Superdraft, but he has yet to sign a contract with the club. Sinovic has proven quite durable over the years, but getting a guy that can spell him occasionally would be a bonus long term for the club. Whether that’s Dia, Ellis (who also played left back this past year), fourth round draft pick, Rocha, or even Bernardo Anor dropping back to back up. Either way, KC really could use someone to step up and establish themselves as Sinovic’s back up.

Signed (10): Bernardo Anor, Servando Carrasco, Jorge Claros, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Mikey Lopez, James Marcelin, Jimmy Medranda, Paulo Nagamura, Graham Zusi
Known in camp (3): Alex Dixon, Christian Duke, Santiago Otero

Midfield is one area that on the surface would seem to be in good shape, but it’s an area that Robb Heineman and Peter Vermes look like theywant to improve upon still. KC had a bit of turnover here from the 2014 season, but not much that should greatly affect the team. Gone are the likes of Lawrence Olum who has move to Malaysia, Victor Munoz, and Christian Duke (who is back as a trialist). And that’s not to mention the early season departure of Oriol Rosell, who KC never really replaced last year. Looking at it from KC’s traditional 4-3-3, KC’s defensive midfield position would seem to be getting crowded. You have the recently acquired Carrasco who seems to be the best passer of the three main options.  Then you have Claros, who came in midseason last year and struggled, but that seems to be a staple of all of Vermes’ midseason signings, so getting a full preseason behind him to learn and adapt to the system is key for Claros. The final addition is former Portland and Dallas midfielder, Marcelin. The Haitian seems to have become a bit of a forgotten man with the addition of Carrasco and could be the next coming of Olum, a contributor who is there, not a superstar, but contributes.

In the box to box midfield role, Kansas City has a couple options that they could play. The returning Espinoza would seem to be the automatic starter for Kansas City. Following him would be the veteran, Nagamura, who while still a contributor, has struggled with injuries that last two years that have really limited his time on the field for the club. Along with both of them, you have Generation Adidas product, Lopez, who may well be in a make or break season for the 2012 first round draft pick.

At the attacking midfield position, you’re headlined by Feilhaber who was arguably the team’s MVP early on in the 2014 season. His move further back on the field after Rosell’s departure really hurt his contribution to the offense as the season wore on. Behind Feilhaber is Zusi, who while can play in the midfield is better deployed out wide as a forward in Vermes’ system. Still playing in the middle allows him the full range of the field for KC. Then you have the Colombian, Medranda. He struggle for time again this year, and like Lopez is likely in a make or break season where he’ll need to step up his contribution to the team.

The wild card in midfield is Anor, who really can play any of KC’s three lines in the 4-3-3; this ability could make him very useful in Vermes’ system. Of the trialists, both Duke and Otero play a more withdrawn role for in KC’s system. In his previous two years on KC’s roster, Duke never made a first team appearance, mainly playing on loan with both Orlando and Oklahoma City. Dixon played a more advanced role in KC’s game against the Timbers, but if Heineman’s tweet is to be believed, his chances of making the team are slim.

Wide Forwards
Signed (5): Bernardo Anor, Conor Hallisey, Krisztian Nemeth, Jacob Peterson, Graham Zusi)

KC shed a bit of weight here in the offseason, with the departures of Toni Dovale, Soony Saad, CJ Sapong, and Sal Zizzo all leaving Kansas City. In their place, KC has brought in the team’s first pick in the SuperDraft, Hallisey, and Hungarian international, Nemeth. It’s an area that Vermes’ apparently feels comfortable with at this point as Heineman has saidthe club isn’t looking there right now. For me this is an area that KC could stand to still improve, at least in terms of depth. I haven’t seen enough of Nemeth to confirm whether he’d be able to be the guy on the left wing for Kansas City or not. But with only Anor, Hallisey, and Peterson there, none of whom are world beaters, the wing opposite Zusi could continue to be an area where KC continues to struggle at this point. The other issue for KC in terms of wing forwards is that two of their five forwards (Anor and Peterson) are likely to be better suited at this point for less advanced positions this year. It’s certainly an area that KC could stand to find another upgrade before the season starts.

Center Forward
Signed (2): Dom Dwyer, Krisztian Nemeth
Known in camp (1): James Rogers

Another area where KC really purged the players from last season. Gone is designated player, Claudio Bieler along with other players that could play the center forward position, including Saad and Sapong. What’s left is the club’s single season record goal scorer, Dwyer who is the starter without a doubt. Behind him is Nemeth, who can play anywhere in the front three that KC traditionally plays. The only other player is third round draft pick, Rogers.

Like the wing forwards, this is an area that I felt that Sporting would have done well to at least add some more depth here. Nemeth has had injury issues that have caused problems for his career. And an injury to Dwyer would be disastrous.

If rosters stay the same size for the 2015 season, which isn’t guaranteed with the CBA negotiations still going on, Kansas City has five roster spots still open. Those spots are left for the two rumored signings that Heineman mentioned, the team’s three remaining unsigned draft picks and the team’s trialists. With Heineman saying that the two are a defensive midfielder and a number 10, which would leave three spots for KC to address. With those three spots, I think KC would be best off signing one of the left backs, a center back, and another center forward to be on the bench for Kansas City.

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