Previous Year Recap
2020 was an interesting year for MLS and Sporting Kansas City. The team won their first two games by scoring 7 goals and allowing 1 before the Covid-19 Pandemic shut everything down. They appeared to be built to run away in the Western Conference, but found themselves in a battle. While Sporting finished first in the West, they needed help in the final weeks to secure their spot.
Injuries and absences plagued their season. Felipe Gutierrez used the Covid break to have season ending knee surgery, Alan Pulido missed roughly half the season with injuries, Gadi Kinda missed significant time during key stretches, Graham Zusi suffered a season ending foot injury, Matt Besler was in and out of form, Ilie Sanchez was out for a length of time with family issues. Despite all the absences the team managed to remain competitive and string together results.
Fantasy Players to Watch
Goalkeeper: Tim Melia is still a premier shot stopper is MLS and the locked in starter for Kansas City. He is easily the best PK stopper in the league at this time giving a nice boost to his ceiling. The thing to watch with Melia is the strength of the defense in front of him. His production is at it’s peak with the defense is funneling attackers in to Melia’s save range. If they hang him out to dry, his value plummets.
Defenders: The Sporting Kansas City defense must be faster this year if they want to remain fantasy viable. 2019 and 2020 were plagued by slow reactions and being unable to recover. Nicolas Isimat-Mirin has been brought in to be a faster, more athletic partner to Puncec Mangers should pay close attention to the wingback positions. Graham Zusi is unavailable to start the season, but his return is not far off. Jaylin Lindsey is expected to get the minutes early. Left Back is a tight battle between Amadou Dia and Luis Martins and either could start depending on opponent and tactics. It’s also possible that Dia could play at Right Back if Lindsey struggles.
Midfielders: Johnny Russell headlines the midfielders in fantasy once again. As a 2nd tier premium player that starts when healthy, he’s the top target as a midfielder that plays winger. The rest of the midfield for Sporting Kansas City may be the most hotly contested unit in terms of minutes in all of MLS. Gadi Kinda is the most likely lock to start, but even he is not safe. Gianluca Busio has come on strong and can play any of the three positions. Remi Walter is a box to box that will challenge Ilie Sanchez for minutes. Ilie fell out of form in 2020 and struggled to protect the defense. Roger Espinoza is back for another season and looks hungrier than ever to retain a starting position despite being the oldest man in the mix. Each of these players can put up solid fantasy numbers and the rotation may keep their prices lower.
Forwards: Alan Pulido is Sporting’s record setting transfer and answer at center forward. The Mexican International was easily the most productive player on the squad when healthy and that should be the same in 2021. Managers will only wish that he gets a bit greedier and takes shots on rather than try to facilitate his teammates.
With Pulido and Sporting working together to honor his desire to be a regular inclusion in the Mexican National Team, Sporting will have to defer to the bench at times this season. That’s when Wilson Harris will get a chance to shine. The youngster has been lights out in preseason and will be hungry to prove he can be a force in MLS. Given his age and experience, he’ll likely come in under $5.5m to start the season.
As a team, Sporting expects to be near the top of the table in the West once again. To do that, they will need strong defensive performances and consistent attacking pressure. This bodes well for fantasy managers. The defense will be a constant clean sheet option. Look for Pulido and Russell to dominant the score sheet with help from Kinda. The rotation at the remaining positions should keep budget options available from a prominent team early in the season.