Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Sporting KC Season Preview - Midfield

In Sporting KC's midfield, like on defense, the squad sees very little in the way of change from 2015. The lone addition to the group is actually a familiar face to Sporting KC fans in the form of Lawrence Olum, who after a season in Malaysia is back in Kansas City. The rest of the midfielders are returning to the team from 2015.

For the sake of this post and tomorrow's about the forwards I am classifying the club's wingers as forwards in KC's 4-3-3 formation so they won't be included directly in this section. So you won't see players like Brad Davis, Justin Mapp, Graham Zusi, etc. Instead I'm going to focus mainly on those players that will predominately play the three midfield positions in KC's system.

Roger Espinoza - If last season's second half slide proved anything for Sporting KC fans; it was how important Roger Espinoza actually was to the team's midfield and their play. Paulo Nagamura performed well in his place, but he didn't provide the bite and tenacity that Espinoza brought on the field. He was close to returning at the end of the season but was unable to make it back in time for the playoff game against the Portland Timbers. A healthy Espinoza in 2016 is going to be important for Kansas City if they want to be successful.

Benny Feilhaber - There was probably no other player last season affected more by Espinoza's injury than Feilhaber. The MVP finalist had scored seven goals and had 11 assists in league play up until Espinoza went down in the 1-1 draw against Houston. After the injury, Feilhaber's defensive duties went up without Espinoza next to him and he wasn't as involved in KC's attack as he was before. After the Espinoza injury Feilhaber had just three goals and four assists over his final 14 appearances in the regular season.

Jimmy Medranda - Medranda looks set to be on a long term loan to the Swope Park Rangers after spending the second half of preseason with them. Medranda has played almost all over the field for KC in his time, playing in the midfield, on the wing, even in the outside back position. He's still young, just 22, but he's really reaching a point where he needs to probably start producing more on the field for Kansas City. Hopefully spending a season with SPR, which looks likely, will give him the chance to get consistent playing time to help him get to that next level.

Soni Mustivar - The Haitian become a key component of KC's midfield once he got himself into the starting 11. His play as the deep midfielder in KC's three man midfield was part of KC's rise up the Supporters' Shield Standings in the 2015 season before the collapse in the second half. Surprisingly, Mustivar hasn't gotten a ton of time in preseason with what would be considered mainly the first team. That could simply be down to Peter Vermes knowing what he has in Mustivar and wanting to see other players with the first team.

Paulo Nagamura - The man with ice in his veins for penalty kicks, Nagamura is back with the club for his fifth season after testing the free agency waters just a little bit in the offseason. At 33 years old (happy birthday Paulo) there does have to be some question of how much more he can give, he's started at least 17 games for KC in each of the past four seasons, and has shown he has the engine to be an integral part of the roster. With 34 MLS games, four Champions League games, and at least one US Open Cup game there's going to be plenty of opportunity for him to get time. If Espinoza can stay healthy though KC should be able to be more selective when they run him out, which will preserve his legs for those moments when KC needs him to step up.

Lawrence Olum - Returning to KC after a year abroad Olum can play either in the midfield or center back, but looks set to mainly play in the midfield. That's where he spent his entire time this preseason save for a brief spell at center back after Ike Opara went down with his hamstring injury. Olum isn't a fancy midfielder, he'll do the work out of there, make the safe distribution to move up the field. The rap he got during the 2014 season was because KC was too reliant on him after the departure of Oriol Rosell. Olum is a fine spot starter and can give good minutes, as shown in two cup finals for KC. But he's not an everyday starter, which is basically what he became after KC sold Rosell early in the 2014 season. In the right role for KC he fills a need and will do just fine in 2016.

Jordi Quintilla - A late season addition in 2015, Quintilla has already written himself into Sporting folklore with his "Jake I go" comment right before he took the winning penalty kick at the US Open Cup final. This year more seems to be expected from the Spaniard and he may even be playing a bit of a different position. At times in preseason it was Quintilla that was playing in the deep midfield role for Kansas City. A position that Feilhaber played at times last year, the deep position allowed Quintilla to play the deep lying playmaking role that Feilhaber played at times last year, but at the same time allowed Feilhaber to be further up the field to create there as well. That was one of the big issues with Feilhaber's role there last year; there was no one further up in the midfield that could really be relied on to create once Feilhaber got the ball forward. That led to stagnation of the offense until Feilhaber was moved further up the field. Quintilla playing deeper is an intriguing idea and could be a way for Kansas City to switch things up in the midfield and offer opponents something else to think about.

Like with defense there are other players elsewhere on the roster that can drop into the midfield if KC needs it. Davis spent a good portion of last season with the Houston Dynamo playing a much more central midfield position than out on the wing for them. Zusi as well can drop back into the center of midfield and take on an attacking midfield role. So there are other players elsewhere on the field that can step into the midfield if KC needs them too.

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