Editorial – As is the case with every offseason, the Sporting KC roster is destined for some fresh, new faces. After roster decisions were announced, ‘The Wiz’ had a total of 22 players remaining on their roster for 2022. Of the 8 whose contracts were either not renewed or had options declined, the most notable were Ilie Sanchez and Luis Martins. Martins played in 31 matches as left-back, and Ilie has long been a fixture in the midfield, and recently at center back. In addition, Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza are free agents, and the club has been negotiating with them. Given that they were protected from the expansion draft, you should have a good inclination that they’ll be back in 2021.
Recent moves have seen them re-sign GK, Kendall McIntosh, and trade away Jaylin Lindsey. Lindsey was traded to Charlotte FC, his hometown club who is building their roster for the inaugural season. The homegrown fullback’s departure brings in an unprecedented intra-league trade with a sell-on clause attached. It netted Sporting KC $100k in General Allocation Money, with the potential to rise up to $325k. With the 15% sell-on fee it is very likely that if and when Lindsey moves onto Europe, Sporting KC will be able to turn whatever that number is that comes to them directly into allocation money as long as it is under $1,050,000. With that, the current Sporting KC roster heading into 2022 looks like this:
- Goalkeepers (3): Tim Melia, John Pulskamp, Kendall McIntosh
- Defenders (4): Andreu Fontás, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Kaveh Rad, Kayden Pierre
- Midfielders (7): Ozzie Cisneros, Jake Davis, Cam Duke, Felipe Hernandez, Gadi Kinda, Jose Mauri, Remi Walter
- Forwards (6): Grayson Barber, Tyler Freeman, Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi, Khiry Shelton
Sporting KC Roster Needs for 2022
Defense Defense Defense
Sporting KC currently has four defenders on their roster for 2022 and only has one fullback. There will likely need to be at least three fullbacks added to the roster so that will be an area of emphasis, especially right back. Kayden Pierre has become a very highly rated right-back at the club given his development with SKC2 since signing his homegrown deal.
He recently appeared for the U-20 boy’s national team during their tournament in November and picked up an assist. Pierre’s development has certainly helped the ease of letting go of Jaylin Lindsey, who was slated to split time and eventually take the starting role over from Graham Zusi in ’21 before picking up an injury that ended his season during the Leagues Cup.
Vermes has long said he wants a 1 (starter), 2 (backup to push starter), and a 3 (development to replace either 1 or 2 in future) at every position. While having none of those at left-back, he still will certainly need a “one” at right-back, so look for a more experienced name to complement Pierre, even if it is Graham Zusi again.
Ilie has been the sharpied in holding midfielder since he arrived at the club in 2017, and his presence both as a human being, teammate, and player will be missed. While Jose Mauri is the obvious candidate to step in as the de facto “six” in the midfield, they need another who can do the job if Mauri is injured, suspended, etc. They’ll need someone with a little bit faster RPM than Ilie, and maybe a bit more positional awareness.
Ilie was a great player and had a decent engine, but he just didn’t have the recovery speed that has become so valuable in the modern game. The mold of the Busquets type midfielder is so hard to find and is a player who needs to be helped defensively by having the majority of possession. But as is the case with the modern game, the transition phases of the game have become so quick that they need a player who can play in the transitions. Frequently, this is where Ilie got caught out due to pace or positional awareness. This is a place where Sporting frequently has been caught out over the last three seasons and I can assume that Vermes knows this and will be looking to bring a player who can aid in those transitional moments in the midfield.
Mauri showed glimpses of being that player, but his overall lack of fitness due to contract and injury issues in Argentina hindered his ability just a bit upon his arrival. His vision in distribution is unquestionably there. It remains to be seen if he can hold up over the course of the physical and somewhat grueling full MLS season.
The pace in the midfield for Sporting KC isn’t much of a problem in-depth at either of the shuttling box to box 8, or “free 8” attacking midfielders. But it might be at the six too. So given everything mentioned above, I expect Sporting KC to bring in another six for strong depth to push Mauri, or to even start over him.
Other areas of need
An experienced CB
Roberto Puncec played for all of 130 minutes, and he was on the hook for a goal or two each time he was asked to play. Graham Smith didn’t get one minute. Both are off the roster. Kaveh Rad showed he has a bright future when he was called upon. One early season mistake against Real Salt Lake was made up for by his stellar play on the road in San Jose. He locked down the left side of the defense and grew leaps and bounds from his first performance. He’s certainly into the conversation of being a “2,” but Sporting KC need at least one more experienced CB to provide backup given the injury history with Isimat-Mirin. Look for an MLS experienced defender to fill that role as opposed to an overseas CB who doesn’t quite know the league, or Sporting’s style or play.
Sporting KC got 31 goals and 16 assists from their starting wingers. There is no reason to believe 2022 will be much different from Salloi and Russell. The idea of a game-changing forward is not that any of the three first choices for Sporting need to be replaced. It is that they need to be able to be supplemented and rested with quality depth.
Sporting did not really have that option in 2021 and it showed. When they needed to bring someone off the bench who could put a defense on its heels, that player wasn’t available to be picked because it didn’t exist on Sporting KC’s roster. A player that is equivalent to Gerso whose speed and ability to “make crap happen” was greatly missed as an alternative to what Sporting started their matches with. Anderson Julio came off the bench and absolutely wrecked what Sporting KC had out there in the playoffs, which was eventually their demise in 2021. They need to have that option either at wing or as a striker. If it comes in the form of the next point, then they will indeed either need to put trust in Grayson Barber, or sign a winger. It’s a great opportunity for them to use their U-22 initiative.
This might catch a bit of flack, but I think Sporting KC needs another striker on the roster they can trust. Khiry Shelton has been that guy for them the past two seasons, and it has been…fine. Shelton has scored 8 goals and notched 7 assists in the past two seasons. That would be a good number if he had played around 2000 minutes over the two seasons.
But Pulido’s lack of consistent availability has seen Shelton approach 3,700 minutes in the last two seasons. It’s a lot of playing time for a guy who doesn’t score a ton. I think he’s an effective backup on occasion, but he’s played more minutes than Pulido the last two seasons out of necessity. If Pulido is going to be hurt as often as he is, Sporting need another goal-scoring threat to replace Pulido when he’s not healthy. Obviously a solution to their problems with consistency at the striker position can simply be solved by a consistently healthy Pulido. But that reality has yet to be lived in.