Friday, November 27, 2015

Season Review - Midfielders - Revamped Midfield for KC in 2015

Continuing to make the way up the field we take a look at the midfield this year for Sporting Kansas City.

Sporting saw plenty of turnover in the midfield from the 2014 season, with just four players, Benny Feilhaber, Mikey Lopez, Jimmy Medranda, and Paulo Nagamura returning for the 2015 season for KC as the club parted company with the likes of Toni Dovale, Lawrence Olum, Victor Munoz, and Jorge Claros in an effort to remake their midfield. The 2015 season saw Kansas City stick with their three man midfield, but there was a lot of movement regarding who played where in the system. The beginning of the season saw Sporting's playmaker, Feilhaber playing very deep in the midfield, in a holding role, but with an ability to play more out of the back. The deep lying playmaker allowed KC to build more out of the back, but it really limited Feilhaber's involvement in the offense, and KC's attack sputtered early on. From there the revolving door at the holding midfield spot picked up again with offseason acquisition, Servando Carrasco getting the run out there before being replaced by Haitian, Soni Mustivar who spent the majority of the season at the holding spot.

Higher up in the midfield, Sporting welcomed back Roger Espinoza to the club after spending two years in England with Wigan Athletic. A little less "Roger the red," Espinoza seemed much more composed at times on the field for Kansas City while still being the box-to-box midfielder that KC needed to break up play and get into the attack. Once Mustivar came in Espinoza and he formed a solid partnership, and KC's late season drop in form and loss of Espinoza is more than just a coincidence. When he went down, Paulo Nagamura took over that role, and while the Brazilian has written himself into Sporting KC lore with some clutch performances, he just doesn't play the position the same way. At the attacking position, Feilhaber found his grove, setting records that most probably wouldn't have been touched after Preki left the club, but KC's #10 really proved to be such in 2015.

The Players

Servando Carrasco - Brought in during the offseason from Houston, Carrasco was the first player to get a crack at the bottom of the midfield triangle after Peter Vermes moved Benny Feilhaber to a more advanced position. Carrasco didn't play poorly there, but he also didn't give everything that was required of the position in Peter Vermes' system. His last appearance as a regular starter was the 4-4 draw in Houston. After that he made just three league appearances, only one start before being traded to Orlando in exchange for Amobi Okugo.

Roger Espinoza - The World Cup and Olympic stand out for Honduras returned to Kansas City in 2015 after a string of rumors throughout the summer and fall of his return. He took up his normal position in the box-to-box role and was successful in getting attacking play through the middle shut down. When paired with Soni Mustivar, Espinoza really was able to funnel attack to the Haitian who was then able to cut the attacks out. Espinoza came back to KC as the team's highest paid player at $750,000 according to the players' union numbers. That led a number of fans to question the signing since he didn't contribute a lot to the offense. While that his true, his contribution to the defense and team as a whole can't be overlooked as easily. After Espinoza went down in the 1-1 draw against Houston, KC won five of their remaining 14 league games, going from Supporters' Shield favorites to squeaking into the playoffs as the six seed. Their defense that had been one of the best in the league when he went down finished around the middle of the league. He may not provide the offensive numbers, but his importance to the team can't be understated.

Benny Feilhaber - The team's MVP and a league finalist for the award, I'm not sure that KC could have asked for more from Feilhaber this year. He had a career year scoring 10 goals and assisting on 15 more in league play while appearing in 32 of 34 games. He also added another two goals and five assists in KC's run to the US Open Cup and played virtually all three midfield positions at different points in the 2015 season and was still able to produce offensively.

Mikey Lopez - the only play on KC's roster to go out on loan to their USL affiliate, Oklahoma City this year, Lopez was recalled from the Energy after playing in eight games, five of them starts. Upon his return he played in six games, five of them starts. He did an okay job filling in for the likes of Nagamura and Mustivar when they needed a break or were injured, but overall it wasn't the breakout season that many people were really hoping that he'd have in 2015. Even though the club says they'll make him an offer for 2016 since he's out of contract, now that he's no longer on a Generation Adidas player, and therefore no longer counting against the cap, his position with the club has to be a lot less secure.

Jimmy Medranda - Medranda, like Lopez, was one of those players that you felt really needed to start contributing more to the team this year. Early on it appeared he could as he started three straight games for KC, where the team went 2-0-1. The Colombian couldn't lock down a starting job though and returned to the bench for the most part until early August when injury issues forced him to play left back on the road against Toronto. The experiment went well and KC won 3-1. The next game Medranda started again at left back, this time against Vancouver, but after falling behind 2-0 early, Peter Vermes used a first half substitution to get Medranda off after just 34 minutes. Medranda started shortly after that, on the road in Columbus, but in a more advanced role that he played more regularly. He started just seven games on the season for KC, a number you'd really like to see him push and force Vermes to give him more time, either that or send him to Swope Park next year to play with the Rangers.

Soni Mustivar - Peter Vermes appeared to find his replacement for Oriol Rosell in the Haitian, Mustivar. While a different player than Rosell in terms of skill set, Mustivar was able to help settle KC's deep midfield position and formed a good partnership with Espinoza in front of him and Matt Besler and Kevin Ellis behind him. Wasn't ever flashy, and didn't provide the passing ability that KC had in Rosell, but was more than able to hold his own against plenty of attacking midfielders in MLS. His play, like much of the team's suffered when Espinoza went down for the season.

Paulo Nagamura - The man with ice in his veins, Nagamura continues to give KC good performances in the center of midfield. Called upon greatly after Espinoza went down for the season, Nagamura filled in well. His performance against Vancouver is the stuff that makes you a legend to the fans, and in the Open Cup final and playoff game he continued his run of perfect penalty kicks in high stress situations, converting both times in situations where missing would have resulted in a loss for Kansas City. Every year there seems to be questions (from myself too) about how long Nagamura can hang on at this level and continue to be successful with the team. He's out of contract at this point, and the team has made him an offer towards 2016.

Amobi Okugo - Acquired from Orlando City around the middle of the season for Servando Carrasco, Okugo struggled in KC. He played just three times for KC after being acquired on July 20th, starting only one game. The one start was the San Jose home loss where he was pulled at half time. He did notch one assist in the club's 3-1 win over Toronto though. I thought when KC acquired him that he'd get more time at center back for Kansas City, a position that most thought he excelled at when with the Philadelphia Union, while being just good at his defensive midfield position. But that never happened as even when Kevin Ellis didn't play with Matt Besler, it was Erik Palmer-Brown that got the minutes there ahead of Okugo. This past season Orlando helped cover a portion of his salary as part of the trade deal. How much, if any, they cover in 2016 will be a big factor in this trade. Right now this feels like one that KC ended up on the wrong end of.

Jordi Quintilla - During the summer, Kansas City picked up just two players to help strength their squad for the second half of the season. One was the above mentioned Okugo, the other was Quintilla. The Spaniard joined KC at the beginning of August after spending time in Spain and France. At 22 and from Barcelona's academy many fans likened the signing to when Vermes brought in Rosell. Like Rosell, Quintilla had a limited, but big impact with KC over his first half a season. He played in eight league games, starting three of them. But what he'll likely always be remembered for in KC was scoring the winning penalty kick in the eighth round of the US Open cup final. Also like Rosell, what he will do for the club can't be fully judged on this season, and has to be seen with an eye towards 2016 and beyond.

Looking Towards 2016

KC has two thirds of their starting midfield already under contract for 2016 with Benny Feilhaber and Roger Espinoza both already signed for 2016. The last penciled in starter at this point is Soni Mustivar, who is currently out of contract. Those three returning heathy would answer a lot of questions heading into the 2016 without taking account any new signings. As for the rest of the midfield, the biggest question is KC's depth. Okugo was less than impressive in his minutes and he's under contract for next year. The team's other two defensive midfielders, Paulo Nagamura and Mikey Lopez are out of contract at this time. For those two it could become a matter of cap space and the ability to find a replacement either through the draft or elsewhere. Overall the main core of the midfield will be fine in 2016, there just needs to be some depth added.

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