Just about three weeks ago, Sporting Kansas City's 2015 season came to a close in a penalty kick shootout against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park. A season that started out promising with Kansas City being in the running for the Supporters' Shield and having a strong US Open Cup run, fizzled by the end of the season, but not without KC taking home their third trophy in four years as they lifted the 2015 US Open Cup in a shootout over the Philadelphia Union. Now that we've all had a chance to come down and get some separation from the season it's time to take a look at Sporting KC's roster this season and take a quick look at 2015.
I figured I'd break these down positions over a couple posts. We'll start in the back and move forward, so today I'm looking at goalkeepers. In 2015 it looked like KC found a starting goalkeeper to replace Jimmy Nielsen, but it wasn't who anyone expected. Sporting KC started the season with Luis Marin in goal, and the Chilean had some decent moments, but also looked incredibly shaky at times coming for crosses and missing, and being very eager to race off his line. After some poor results, more than one fan was calling for back up Tim Melia to get a chance. Lots of people like to make the "backup quarterback" argument about back up goalkeepers as well in that he's a team's favorite player when the starting goalkeeper is doing poorly. In KC's case though it turned out to be true, Melia stepped in after eight games and made the position his. After a month or so of sitting on the bench, Marin was released and returned to Chile. To replace Marin on the senior roster, Sporting recalled homegrown goalkeeper, Jon Kempin from his loan to NASL side, the San Antonio Scorpions. Kempin made three league starts this year in place of Melia when he was hurt and also came on as a substitute in the playoff game against Portland.
Jon Kempin - KC's first homegrown goalkeeper finished his sixth professional season tying his career high for starts with three and appearances with four. He played well in his three starts, going 1-1-1 in Orlando and at home against Dallas and Seattle, making six saves on 11 shots. Where he really shined though was in the playoff game against Portland. Coming on after Melia had suffered a head injury, Kempin performed well in overtime and was left with little he could have done on Portland's equalizer. In penalty kicks he made three saves on Portland penalty kicks, twice in sudden death giving KC the chance to win but the shooters were unable to capitalize on it.
For 2016 for Kempin the big thing is to get him consistent playing time. At 22 he really needs to start getting games every week, and if Melia is going to be the starter next year I want Kempin to spend the entire season in goal for the Swope Park Rangers on loan. He needs professional games and that is likely to be the best spot for him to get them at this point. The other big thing is that Kempin is one of two players who are out of contract for Kansas City, so before all that the key will be getting Kempin signed to a new contract to keep him in Kansas City.
Luis Marin - Joined KC in the offseason before the 2015 season and was expected to be the starter from day 1 after having a successful career in Chile that included being named to Chile's 2010 World Cup roster. Despite Peter Vermes' comments that there was a competition, most fans knew the job was Marin's to start the season. Marin started the first eight games of the season, going 2-2-4 and recorded two shutouts for KC. Overall I'm not sure that Marin couldn't have been a successful in MLS I'm just not sure that he would have ever been fully successful in KC's system. He struggled with claiming crosses and corners and at times almost seemed reckless in how fast he came off of his line.
Finally benched after the 4-4 draw with Houston where he gave up a near post goal from 30 plus yards out, he was never able to get his spot back. Vermes deserves credit here for pulling the plug when things weren't working and going with a different goalkeeper.
Tim Melia - The man who took over for Marin after he couldn't lock down the starting spot, Melia made it his own. Taking over for Marin after the first eight games of the season, Melia started 23 of the remaining 26 league games for KC, posting an 11-8-4 record with a goal difference of 1.22 and eight shutouts. Melia also started all five of KC's US Open Cup games on the way to winning the 2015 edition, making two saves in the shootout to help KC win. Melia proved to be a good shot stopper, saving 75% of the shots he faced, while at the same time having control of his area. The combination of the two is something that KC has really struggled with in goal over the last few years, even with Nielsen in goal. KC's had players who were good with stuff in the air (Eric Kronberg) and guys that were good shot stoppers (Nielsen), but Sporting hasn't really had a player that did both the way Melia did for KC this season. Any other season and Melia is likely your team MVP.
Looking Towards 2016
While there are not as many questions about the goalkeeping position this offseason as there was in 2014, there are still a number of them. Melia is under contract for the 2015 season, but probably deserves a bit of a raise after his performance in goal. Keeping Kempin should be a priority for the team; he's improved each season and has started to look really confident in goal for KC. That said, once he is under contract, he needs to spend the entire season with the Swope Park Rangers. Kempin needs to play 20 plus games next year at least, he really needs to get games to continue his development at this point. KC also needs to add a third goalkeeper, someone who is likely to be cheap and can sit on the bench while Melia starts. I'd personally lean towards a goalkeeper from the lower divisions that has some experience starting to give some confidence in goal in Open Cup games and if Melia comes up with an injury over a rookie who you'll stall developmental wise since you're giving the minutes with SPR to Kempin.