Sporting Kansas City, a team traditionally known for defense, looks to build on their record setting 2018 campaign that saw them score the most goals in a season in team history. With additions like Kelyn Rowe and Erik Hurtado, the youth talent, and healthy Felipe Gutierrez, fans can expect more fireworks out of KC this season to complement their generally stingy defense.
Led by Peter Vermes, Sporting have made the playoffs every season since 2011 and despite trading away or losing key players like former Defender of the Year Ike Opara, Diego Rubio, and Khiry Shelton, they are favorites to return to the post season and should challenge for the top spot in the west once again. Vermes and his scout team have brought in several new players that will fill the void.
Tactics & Key Players
The 4-3-3 formation has been the identity of Kansas City Soccer under Peter Vermes and that won’t be changing in 2018.
Goalkeeper: Tim Melia will be returning in goal and looking to continue his dominance in the league. The former pool keeper has become a perennial Goalkeeper of the Year candidate with SKC.
Defenders: Matt Besler and Graham Zusi will be anchoring the defense along with Andreu Fontas who will be stepping in to replace Ike Opara. Fans wondered when this move would come as Fontas was on the payroll for three times what Opara was making. There is an ongoing battle for the left back position. Rodney Wallace, a free agent signing from NYCFC, has gotten the majority of first team minutes in preseason is trying to wrench the spot away from Seth Sinovic permanently. There could be a lot of rotation at this position depending on opponent as well.
Midfields: Ilie Sanchez headlines the midfield as the maestro in the back and is responsible for linking the defense with the offense as Sporting continues to play possession and build from the back. His attacking complements could see a shake up this season however. Felipe Gutierrez is likely a lock to start given his pedigree, but the final spot is up for grabs. Roger Espinoza has been a staple in Kansas City, except for his stint with Wigan, but newcomer Kelyn Rowe looks poised to steal the starting job. This will be an interesting battle and one that is likely to lead to frequent rotation. Young talents like Wan Kuzain and Gianluca Busio will be waiting alongside Yohan Croizet for their chance to make an impact and force Vermes to reconsider his lineups.
Wingers: There is no lack of depth at the winger position in Kansas City either. Johnny Russell is back after a 10 goal, 10 assist season and will play opposite Daniel Salloi who also bagged 10 goals in 2018. The speedy Gerso Fernandes is also a viable option as a replacement for either side with Yohan Croizet as another alternate in the XI.
Forwards: If Sporting has one Achilles heel, it’s at the forward position. 2018 saw limited production on the score sheet from this location with Diego Rubio doing the most damage off the bench. Krisztian Nemeth appeared healthy in preseason and links up well with the other attackers. SKC has been scoring by committee and this trend should continue in 2019.
Ike Opara was traded to Minnesota United and his pace will be missed.
Sporting is a mixed bag when it comes to fantasy. There is a huge upside for many of their players, but there are so many quality options that predicting the right choice each round will be the biggest choice. The offensive firepower should bring up many multiple goal games, but will it be Nemeth, Russell, Salloi, Gutierrez, or someone else getting the tally?
Defensively Sporting struggled more than expected in 2018 and that trend will likely continue as they focus on the attack and build larger cushions. Long gone are the days of 1-0 wins being commonplace.
Zusi will continue to be a force in fantasy as he takes set pieces as a RB, but his numbers are likely to drop. From preseason games, Russell appears to be on corner kicks and Gutierrez and Zusi are sharing free kicks from dangerous areas.