Monday, January 16, 2017

A Look at Sporting's Roster Before Preseason

Sporting Kansas City kicks off preseason in Arizona in a week, with the season just around the corner, Sporting already has a fairly full complement of players on their roster. Currently the club has 27 of 28 roster spots filled and also has the club's first round pick, Colton Storm heading into preseason. On the surface it would seem that there are not a lot of question marks regarding who is going to be on the roster in 2017. With preseason looming, here's a look at the Sporting KC roster as it stands right now in terms of depth.


Returning: Tim Melia

In: Andrew Dykstra, Adrian Zendejas

Out: Alec Kann, Jon Kempin

Probably the straightest forward of KC's positions heading into 2017, but also one with some of the most turnover from the 2016. Out is Alec Kann, last season's back up as he was selected by Atlanta United in the expansion draft, and KC's first homegrown player, Jon Kempin. In their place, KC brought in Andrew Dykstra through the Re-Entry Draft and Adrian Zendejas from the Swope Park Rangers.

Tim Melia is probably still the expected starter in goal for Kansas City in 2017; he currently has a 22-19-9 record in goal for KC. He's likely be backed up primarily by Dykstra, who KC selected in the second stage of the Re-Entry draft. Dykstra fell down the depth chart last season at DC United after allowing four goals in DC's opener against LA. Ben Olsen went with Travis Worra the next week and Worra performed well enough to keep the starting job over Dykstra until Bill Hamid was back, then becoming the primary back up. Dykstra has been a career back up in his MLS career and will provide some more experience in goal for competitions like the US Open Cup when Melia is likely to get a break. Zendejas will likely fill the same role as Kempin did last year. He'll go on loan to the Swope Park Rangers where he'll be the presumed starter. He won't return to play for Sporting unless there is an injury to Dykstra or Melia, allowing him to get games, which is the most important thing for him now.

Depth chart
1. Melia
2. Dykstra
3. Zendejas


Returning: Saad Abdul-Salaam, Matt Besler, Kevin Ellis, Jimmy Medranda, Lawrence Olum, Ike Opara, Erik Palmer-Brown*, Seth Sinovic

In: Igor Juliao, Tyler Pasher, Colton Storm

Out: Chance Myers, Nuno Coelho

Kansas City wasn't a bad defensive team in 2016, they allowed the sixth fewest goals in the league in 2016, certainly not the level most fans have come to expect, but certainly not bad either. The issue for Kansas City last year was consistency in their center back pairing. I feel like a broken record the number of times I've said it, but KC used seven different center back combinations in 34 league games, no combination played more than 11 games together. Consistency at center back would make Kansas City better as a whole. KC returns four of five center backs from last season, plus the return of Erik Palmer-Brown from loan. On paper, it would seem that Matt Besler and Ike Opara are the favorites to start the season at center back together with Kevin Ellis, Lawrence Olum, and Palmer-Brown backing them up. After his return from loan, most Sporting fans seem excited about the prospect of Palmer-Brown winning the starting job in 2017, even though he'll miss a chunk of the preseason with the US U20 team for World Cup qualifying and possibly the U20 World Cup this summer. The problem could come this summer with Palmer-Brown and Matt Besler both potentially missing time while on national team duty, something that will cause more inconsistency with the back line.

All of KC's roster moves on defense this winter have been on the wings. Gone is veteran Chance Myers, whose return looked extremely unlikely at the end of the season, and became basically non-existent when the club brought Igor Juliao back on loan. Myers' time in KC was bookended by injury issues, but the stretch from 2011 through 2013 when he was healthy; there were very few right backs in the league better than him. He'll be remembered well for that time, but with Saad Abdul-Salaam taking his spot, there wasn't a reason to use his $200,000 plus cap hit on a reserve. Behind Abdul-Salaam is the returning Juliao, who hopefully has improved his defensive work while back in Brazil, as that was the trouble during his first stint with KC. After Juliao things are interesting as you have Graham Zusi, Sporting's right winger, but now playing right back with the US team, and showed well during his few experiences there with KC last season. He could certainly drop back to right back as well more regularly giving KC another option. That makes the acquisition of Colton Storm, a defender most people expect to play as a right back, all the more interesting with three other options there currently.

Storm could be an option at left back as well according to Peter Vermes, but KC isn't thin there either. The starting position at left back isn't as clear as on the right with Seth Sinovic and Jimmy Medranda both spending time at the position last year. Towards the end of the season, Sinovic was preferred to Medranda as the starter, and Besler looked much more comfortable with Sinovic next to him at left back compared to how he played with Medranda. If it comes down to a better unit, Medranda could be the one backing up Sinovic for the better of the back line as a whole. Then again, maybe a full preseason with Besler and Medranda working together would give the two a better partnership. At the same time you have comments from the team that they see Medranda's future up the field in a more attacking position, which could leave an opening behind Sinovic. Behind those two you could see a spot for Storm, as a third left back, but he could also be pushed down there because of the earlier signing of Tyler Pasher from the Swope Park Rangers. While Pasher played predominately as a winger for the Rangers, his lone appearance for Sporting KC last year, a CONCACAF Champions League game, came as the left back for Vermes. I have a feeling that Vermes sees Pasher as a hybrid that could play both positions at the MLS level. With his age Pasher could also be a candidate to spend a portion of the season on loan with SPR to get him more games and playing time. However it is, with KC's current depth at outside back, and Storm being without a contract right now, his chances of making the roster can't be guaranteed at this point.

Depth Chart
1. Sinovic
2. Medranda
3/4. Pasher/Storm

1. Besler
2. Opara
3. Ellis
4. Palmer-Brown
5. Olum

1. Abdul-Salaam
2. Juliao
3. Zusi
4. Storm


Returning: Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Benji Joya, Soni Mustivar, Lawrence Olum

In: Ilie Sanchez

Out: Paulo Nagamura, Emmanuel Appiah

Midfield is probably the one area that Kansas City really could stand to add further depth at this point. With the recent signing of Ilie Sanchez, KC now has six players who would predominately play midfield. Yes there are other options, like Graham Zusi, but right now these six are the depth for KC in midfield. Of the six of them, Benny Feilhaber and Roger Espinoza look firmly entrenched in their starting spots in Vermes' three man midfield. Behind both of them, it looks like the Sanchez addition is going to push Soni Mustivar the most of the three. Mustivar struggled at times last year with some of his passing; there were a few examples late in the season of him just playing the ball right to the other team. Competition for spots is certainly a good thing, as it'll lead to both raising their game.

Feilhaber and Espinoza though don't have a lot of competition to start over either, both have nice big contracts at this point, so while they could bring in some, these two look set to start. Behind them is Benji Joya, brought in late last season to the team, Joya made no league appearances, but did make one CCL appearance and in it looked calm and comfortable on the ball. He's mentioned liking to play deeper, but could be a good replacement for Feilhaber if need be. If Vermes wants to play him deeper, in more of Espinoza's role, he could drop Zusi back and slide him into the middle into Feilhaber's position.

Olum didn't see a lot of time in midfield for KC last season, spending most of his time on the field in defense, but he's still an option for Vermes in the midfield, although probably less now with the addition of Sanchez.

Depth Chart
1. Feilhaber
2. Zusi
3. Joya

1. Espinoza
2. Feilhaber
3. Joya

1/2. Mustivar/Sanchez
3. Feilhaber
4. Olum


Returning: Dom Dwyer, Cameron Porter, Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi*, Graham Zusi

In: Latif Blessing, Gerso Fernandes, Cameron Iwasa, Tyler Pasher, Christian Volesky

Out: Bernardo Anor, Brad Davis, Connor Hallisey, Justin Mapp, Jacob Peterson

The position that needed the most makeover for Sporting KC looks to have gotten it ahead of the 2017 season. Kansas City now has 10 players who predominately play one of their three attacking positions, plus another (Medranda) who the club has said they see playing further up the field. That's a lot of players battling for playing time in only three positions. One of those players, Diego Rubio, will be out until at least the summer recovering from his ACL tear leaving a little extra playing time in there, but it's certainly an influx of new blood into the KC attack. On one level it almost sort of feels like Vermes is throwing a bunch of things against the wall and seeing who actually sticks. Other than Gerso Fernandes none of the new players are going to be extremely expensive, and Latif Blessing is the only other one of the five that is on a multi-year contract. If someone doesn't work out, KC certainly has some outs in their attack.

The big question for all the new talent is if someone can provide the secondary goal scoring for Dwyer that KC lacked last year. Sporting needs to get more goal production than they did from the wing position last year, the club can't afford another season where the second leading scorer has just six goals in a Western Conference that already looks to be improving from top to bottom. The hope is that new designated player, Fernandes can help with that although he hasn't been much of a goal scorer in his career, and his speed is something that KC hasn't had up top in a long time and could surprise and stretch some defenses in 2017, something Sporting hasn't had the ability to do. Opposite him it's assumed will be Zusi, who while playing right back with the US at times seems likely to keep his right wing position for his club.

Behind those three things become a little more muddied, with all the new players available, and returning talent. KC still has Cameron Porter and the returning Daniel Salloi, both of them can play in the middle and out wide for Sporting, giving them versatility. The same can be said for the likes of Cameron Iwasa who did it with Sacramento. Latif Blessing with his size seems destined for the wing and one has to hope he can translate some of his scoring in Ghana to MLS. With Pasher, KC has another player who can play on either wing, but can also drop deep. The only one that really seems to be a pure center forward is Christian Volesky, who would seem to give KC a big body to throw up top when they need a different style of hold up play. We saw last season with Dwyer and Rubio that Vermes tends to leave Dwyer on the field most of the time, although Volesky's lack of MLS experience is certainly a little worrisome if Dwyer picks up some sort of injury.

While there are still questions about the front line, I do like the influx of speed that has been added to the team, it will add a different dynamic to the front line, KC won't always have to do the patient build up out of the back, instead KC can look to strike on the counter, and actually be dangerous on the counter with the speed. The one big question is whether all 10 of these players actually make it to opening day. Having 10 players for three positions, even with the advantage of having the Rangers to get players playing time seems too much if players remain healthy. I could see this as an area that KC could trip the roster in preseason.

Depth chart

1. Fernandes
2. Blessing
3. Pasher
4. Iwasa/Porter

1. Dwyer
2. Rubio (IR)
3. Volesky
4. Salloi

1. Zusi
2. Blessing
3/4. Iwasa/Porter

Overall I'm torn on this team right now. I like the additions that the team has made; I feel that they're the right ones to make, bringing in the right type of players. At the same time I'm still concerned about KC's ability to improve on their performance from last year. So far many of the teams that finished below KC are making additions that are needed to improve their rosters to compete for a playoff spot in 2017. KC was able to get into the playoffs in 2016, but has the roster improved enough to keep them in the playoffs in 2017? That's the question right now and it's a hard one to answer until we see the team on the field. Vermes has infused some young talent into a veteran squad, if the young talent can step up to fill holes, the team could be in a really good place. If the young players don't mesh well, then the team is going to have struggles like they did last year.

The thing with the way the current roster is made up, is that the club doesn't have a lot of room for flexibility right now, they currently only have one roster spot still open right now and are currently over their max of eight internationals. They'll need to get that corrected before the March 1st roster compliance deadline. They have a few ways to do that, whether it is by getting rid of a current international player, trading for another international roster spot from another club, or one of their current internationals (Blessing, Fernandes, Juliao, Medranda, Mustivar, Pasher, Rubio, Salloi, and Sanchez) could get their green card, knocking them down to eight (Pasher still counts as an international as he doesn't qualify as a Canadian domestic player).

We'll see how preseason affects the depth charts once we see some of these new players in with Sporting.

No comments: