2017 Sporting Kansas City Review
Another season, another playoff road loss. For the third straight year, Sporting Kansas City was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round after a late season collapse. Falling from 2nd to 6th in the Western Conference forced them to play on the road once again. MLS’ best defense was anchored by Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Melia and Defender of the Year Ike Opara, but was unable to find goals when they were needed most.
Sporting KC has once again fallen victim to the MLS Expansion Draft losing forward Latif Blessing to LAFC. The promising young Ghanaian was a bright spot on offense in 2017 with his flash if not on the score sheet. Following the Expansion Draft, Sporting KC dealt Benny Feilhaber to LAFC in exchange for Allocation Money. This shock move by Peter Vermes left SKC without proven talent in the attack and marks the second loss of a fan favorite in under a year with the first being Dom Dwyer to Orlando City.
Sporting wasted no time in finding a replacement for Blessing however. Khiry Shelton was brought into the squad for NYCFC in exchange for Saad Abdul-Salaam. Not only was this a necessary move, Vermes was able to leverage the value Salaam had despite being a backup to Graham Zusi throughout 2017.
Sporting has made three major moves at the time of writing this article with the promise of another move looming. First they signed Yohan Croizet, a French attacking mid. His inclusion in the squad made it possible to deal Feilhaber and he likely would have competed directly with the MLS veteran for minutes. Emiliano Amor was brought in on loan to back up Opara and Matt Besler at center back, but speculation has it that he might be able to supplant one of the duo at some point in 2018. The 22-year-old Argentinian brings quality and depth to the squad in the absence of Erik Palmer-Brown and Kevin Ellis. It was announced on Monday that Sporting had come to terms with Scotsman Johnny Russell of Derby County. The veteran winger is expected to come in and make an immediate impact in Kansas City with his work rate, tenacity, and vicious left footed strike.
Peter Vermes is still looking for his #9 to challenge Diego Rubio for the starting position. With a mountain of GAM and TAM at his disposal, the only sticking point is finding a player whose club will let him come. SKC has twice been denied a transfer after coming to terms with the player this off season.
Expected/Predicted Starting XI Picture
It’s easy to predict the formation for Sporting Kansas City. Peter Vermes rarely strays from his trusted 4-3-3 and the new faces will not deter him from his ways. The new faces will slot in nicely where exiting players left. Croizet is surely a lock to start in midfielder. Daniel Salloi and Khiry Shelton will be hard pressed to displace both Gerso Fernandes and Russell for starting spots, but don’t be surprised to see early rotation among these players if goals don’t come. Unsurprisingly, the defense will be unchanged to start the season. The best defense of 2017 returning intact is a formidable sight for 2018.
2017 saw a massive shift in how Sporting KC played their games. Instead of the frantic high press fans and opponents were accustom to, they were largely a possession oriented defensive power. With Ilie Sanchez playing the pivot, Vermes coached his side into one of the best possession percentages in the league to go along with the best defensive showing in 2017. There is no reason to believe that will change in 2018.
What Sporting has added in 2018 is a new dynamic. Three high energy players capable of running at defenses for 90 minutes. Between Rubio, Russell, and Croizet, defenders will have to worry about constant hustle and strong challenges all game.
The biggest question going into 2018 is where will goals come from? Until Vermes’ squad can prove otherwise, don’t expect anyone to light up the score sheet.
2018 Expectations and Closing Fantasy Thoughts
Expect Kansas City to remain the defensive Juggernaut they were last season with prices to match. The most notable fantasy change will be the move of Zusi to defender. If his 2017 fantasy scores had been calculated as a defender. Good enough to have been the 5th best overall. Defense is going to be a good investment, even if the value isn’t quite right. Sporting has 3 top 10 defenders fantasy wise and the best goalkeeper you can buy. With that many options, don’t risk taking attacking options until someone steps up and proves that he can carry this team.