Announced Thursday afternoon, Sporting Kansas City are set to unveil the signing of their second ever homegrown player from the club's Juniors academy. The team has not stated who the player will be, but it has been long suspected, even before the team left for Arizona preseason training, that it would be attack-minded rightback Kevin Ellis.
Ellis, who will turn 20 in June, played out his college soccer career at Oak Park High School in Kansas City, played two years at Barton Community College in Great Bend, KS where he was named a second team All-American (NJCAA - National Junior College Athletic Association) in 2009 as a freshman for Barton CC, and a first-teamer in 2010 as a sophomore. Ellis was Barton's first ever outfield player to the earn the award in back-to-back seasons. Ellis also helped Barton to a third place finish nationally in 2010.
During his 2-year career at Barton, the Cougars had a combined mark of 41-8-1, were 2-time Region VI Champions and made back-to-back appearances the NJCAA National Tournament for the 1st time in school history.
From his back row position, Ellis still scored 11 goals and added 4 assists to finish 3rd on the team in scoring (2010). Ellis was able to notch a majority of those goals on corner kicks and free kicks when he would move up the field to the net. Last season (2009) Ellis finished with 23 goals to give him a school record 34 during this career. His 23 goals as a freshman is 2nd all-time for a single season. Ellis played midfield and forward most of his 1st season with the Cougars. His 80 points also eclipsed the school record by a single point.
More info on Kevin, as well as a few thoughts on where he fits into the team, after the jump...
Ellis was a member of the Kansas City Wizards Juniors program at the U-16, U-17 and U-18 levels before going to college, then he came back after his first year and continued to play with the U-19 squad. This is a great example of a Major League Soccer club getting their hands on a guy at a young age, helping to grow his game as a youngster, allowing him to move onto the college ranks and really blossom, all while maintaining his rights and capitlaizing when he is ripe for the picking. This should continue to be the golden path for MLS clubs in the near future.
From Kevin's coach, Oliver Twelvetrees, at Barton:
Kevin is one of the top athletes we've ever had here at Barton. He's played a key role in back-to-back national tournament appearances. He proved this year he is one of the best players in the nation.
His move into the back led to a big improvement in our team this year. I'm looking forward to seeing Kevin reach his full potential and play professionally some day.
I speculated previously that it was perhaps the impressive play of leftback Korede Aiyegbusi in preseason training that enabled the team to cut ties with second round SuperDraft pick J.T. Murray. Long story short, it was anticipated that Murray would serve as cover for starting leftback Roger Espinoza, should he be called into the Honduran national team for this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup. Obviously it didn't work out when Murray was cut two weeks into preseason camp.
Now, it appears that Sporting KC technical director/head coach Peter Vermes has taken such a liking to Ellis that he was the reason Murray was released so quickly. Terez Paylor at the KC Star quoted Vermes at the begining of the month saying, "he’s definitely showing himself to be a strong candidate for something like that," speaking of potentially being the club's second homegrown player signing.
The way that Ellis fits into the squad does two things for the team: 1) with rightback Michael Harrington's ability to also play leftback, Ellis would slide into Harrington's rightback spot should Espinoza participate in the Gold Cup, or in the event that Harrington goes down with injury, and 2) given his college history of playing in the midfield and as a forward in college, Ellis provides Vermes with a fun bundle of substitution joy come the 70th minute when the team needs a creative spark.
In an interview with Thad at The Back Post, Ellis describes himself as a "rightback; more of an attacking rightback. I like to get up and down the field a lot, and bring a lot of energy and pace to the game." That sounds just like the kind of player that thrives in Vermes' high-pressure, high-tempo 4-3-3 system - fullbacks that love to get forward and provide width with the three more central midfielders occupying the center of the field.
I would expect that Ellis will start the season in the gameday eighteen as the backup wide defender for Harrington, who would then come on if Espinoza were hurt and Harrington moves to the left. It may seem a bit of a surprise that he would take such a prominent role in the squad so quickly, but the fact is that there are no other wide defending options other than Aiyegbusi, and he doesn't possess the size that Ellis does, so Ellis should be the second choice fullback on gameday. He should also see ample playing time in the newly re-birthed reserve league, until if/when he breaks into the first team.
From Sporting KC:
The event will be streamed live on SportingKC.com as the player pens his first professional contract. Followers can submit questions for Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes and the team's newest signing via Twitter by sending reply messages to @SportingKC for selected use during the press conference.
I do hope that you'll all take part in this, as it is a great chance to interact with the team. Especially in an instance where I will be unable to attend and ask questions on your behalf.