Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Sporting KC Best XI - Midfielders

The voting for the midfielders in Sporting KC's "Best XI" has finished up and with that done I'm taking a look at how I selected my team for the Best XI. The first thing I immediately noticed when going in to make my picks was the fact that after selecting three defenders, we were selecting five midfielders, setting up a Bob Gansler-esk 3-5-2 lineup for the Best XI team. With the five spots available, there were 14 players available for selection; Sporting Legends like Preki and Chris Klein were available for selection along with current players Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Paulo Nagamura, and Graham Zusi. Also included in the list was the club's first draft pick, Matt McKeon and fellow MLS original, Mark Chung, and players from the middle of KC's history, the likes of Davy Arnaud, Chris Brown, Francisco Gomez, Jack Jewsbury,  Sasha Victorine, and Kerry Zavagnin. Certainly a difficult vote, but easier for me personally than the last one when it came to the defenders.

First, I'm not even going to attempt to beat around the bush here with the first player I selected, Preki, he is the best player to have ever played for this club, the only player to win the MLS MVP award twice in their career, the second time at 40, he absolutely is on the Best XI.. He's the team's all-time leader in goals (71 league, 81 all) and in assists (98 league, 104 all) appeared in over 200 games, starting over 200 in all competitions, falling just one short of that in league play (199). This whole discussion for the top five midfielders for the Best XI really should have just been done as Preki and the other four midfielders as arguments can be made for or against other candidates, but I don't see a logical way that you can argue against his inclusion in this team.

There were two other players that I immediately added to my list of five midfielders, Davy Arnaud and Chris Klein. The recently retired, future Sporting Legend and last year's inductee as a Legend, Arnaud and Klein are both no-brainers for me as a fan. Both are in the top 10 in terms of appearances (Arnaud 240, most in club history, Klein 200), and starts (Arnaud 213, Klein 183), they're also both top five in terms of goals (Arnaud 43, Klein 39) and assists (Arnaud 35, Klein 45). While the pair certainly isn’t Preki, the pair is ahead of the rest of the pack of players in the midfield and easy selections for spots two and three in the midfield.

That leaves us with just two spots left and another 11 players still available for selection. From here one thing I looked at to help narrow my list down was a player's longevity with the club. While players like Mark Chung, Paulo Nagamura, and Sasha Victorine have done a lot for the club, I don't think they've done it over a long enough period of time to give them one of the final two spots on the list. And while it may bother a few of the newer fans I feel that Feilhaber falls into that same category. While he has 18 league goals and 25 assists, he's played less than 100 games for KC (91) and started 84. For the last two spots I felt that there were players that have been at a higher level for longer than Feilhaber has.

One of the hardest parts of the midfield selection was giving some credit to those players who don't play an attacking midfield position. Players like Espinoza, McKeon, Nagamura, and Zavagnin never put up great offensive numbers when they played in Kansas City but that shouldn't keep them from being able to be selected to the Best XI in my opinion. At the same time I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't a team that would actually take the field, so some lack of defensive help, or two to three players that mainly play the right wing is just fine when selecting your players (it's the same issue that I always used to have selecting my fantasy team, building a good well rounded team, but lacking because I tried to build a "team" and not one to just get points).

After eliminating Nagamura earlier due to his lack of longevity, I'm left with Espinoza, McKeon, and Zavagnin among defensive minded midfielders. While Espinoza has had the most success of the three at the national level and McKeon had a strong career for the Wizards, if I'm going with any defensive minded player in the midfield, it's going to be Zavagnin, second behind Arnaud in terms of appearances in league play with 237, but first in appearances in all competitions (291), starts (281), league starts (228), and is the team's leader minutes played in league (20,516) and all competitions (25,290).

While Zavagnin leads the way if I go with one defensive minded midfielder, I still have seven players left with Brown, Gomez, Jewsbury, and Zusi joining Espinoza, McKeon and Zavagnin. Of those seven I feel I can comfortably knock it down to five, because while Chris Brown and Francisco Gomez both played over 140 games across all competitions for Kansas City, when I think of a Best XI midfield for Kansas City, neither one of those players is even close to the discussion. Brown was a consistent performer, but the way that I think would relate him to many newer fans would be that he was Gansler's Jacob Peterson, he worked hard, it did all the things that were asked of him, and he did well in practice, in an earlier MLS without the skill players there are now that was enough to get you consistent starts. As for Gomez, he just never reached the expectations that were there when he was signed as a Project 40 player (the precursor to the Generation Adidas program). He'd been seen as an eventual replacement for Preki at the attacking midfield position, but never got close to that level.

With the remaining five, I just felt that I could cut the final three I needed to so I could get my five midfielders. While Jewsbury appeared almost 200 times in league play for KC, he struggled for a long time even finding a position on the field for KC. While he eventually slotted in mainly as a defensive midfield, Jewsbury spent time as a forward, wingback, and a winger for Gansler. He was a good player, but when KC brought in a better one for that position, he moved elsewhere on the field. He really fit the jack of all trades joke that people made. The last two I cut from my list were Espinoza and McKeon. I stated the reasons for considering Zavagnin above both of them above, but I'd also put Zusi above both of them. Zusi has been a strong performer for Kansas City, a top 20 goal scorer and already in the top five for assists in both league and all competitions for KC. He very likely won't ever catch Preki for number 1 on the list but should easily set himself as second on that list by the time he retires.

So with just the forward line to go, here is my Best XI for Sporting KC so far:

Klein - Arnaud - Preki - Zusi
Besler - Conrad - Garcia 


Unknown said...

Another good article. My only difference so far given 3-5-2, is Meola in goal. Although if the formation had been 4-4-2, would include Vermes and remove Zusi. I wonder if they will have voting for manager. Gansler v Vermes a good discussion

Anonymous said...

Is this a league wide thing with the best XI?

Are other original teams celebrating to the same extent that we are?