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31 for 31: Trio of rookies step up to challenge

Sporting Kansas City took full advantage of three 1st round draft picks in selecting Connor Hallisey, Saad Abdul-Salaam, and Amadou Dia in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. After dealing with injuries and call ups once again this season, Vermes needed depth in his lineup and called upon the rookies at important times. Each of them stepped up and made an impact this season.

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While the importance and necessity of the MLS SuperDraft has been debated, Sporting Kansas City continue to find impactful talent. The current lineup is full of past draftees like Chance Myers, Roger Espinoza, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, and Dom Dwyer. Although they are no longer in KC, the club used picks CJ Sapong and Teal Bunbury to keep all that success rolling. Both were traded for 1st round picks in the 2015 SuperDraft.

Picks that would not go to waste.

With three in the first round, SKC selected Connor Hallisey at #10, Saad Abdul-Salaam at #12 and Amadou Dia at #20 overall. Nobody could have imagined just how much the team would need them in their rookie season.

This team knows the importance of depth in MLS, and the 2015 season was a continued trend of injury woes. With Chance Myers still out, Amadou Dia was thrown into the ring of fire and started opening day at right-back. Connor Hallisey was right behind him, making his debut in April, and Abdul-Salaam was called back from the San Antonio Spurs in May. Throughout the rest of the season the trio of rookies racked up the minutes and found their places in this tight-knit group.

Hallisey came to KC via the University of California as an All-District, All-Pac-12 and second team All-American forward. In 13 appearances for Sporting he started 6 matches, played over 500 minutes with 8 shots and a beautiful back heel assist to Zusi. The inexperience did show a little and at times he was a bit behind the quick pace of MLS. But he showed his potential. Give Vermes more time with him and as gets more professional minutes under his belt (maybe with SPR?) he could grow into a really solid player.

Saad Abdul-Salaam, or SAS, stands at 6'4" making him the tallest player on the roster by a few inches. After being sent to the NASL, Abdul-Salaam would get 28 appearances with two assists in all competitions. Just how Vermes likes his outside backs, SAS used those long legs getting forward. While he could run like a deer, I must admit there were a couple times he looked like a baby deer fumbling around. But the 24 year old North Carolina native gave Sporting all you can ask for in a rookie... and then some.

He showed confidence in the final third several times and he can be pretty damn clever. Add in the good defensive instincts and you can see the tools are all there. He could use some more muscle with the physicality of this league, but Abdul-Salaam could very well be a mainstay on the back line in the coming years.

After being robbed when he rocked that PK off both posts in the final game of the season, expect SAS to come back hungry next year.

The 22 year old out of Clemson, Amadou Dia, played the most out of all the rookies. In just MLS play he finished with 1 assist in over 1300 minutes in 22 appearances (13 starts). He also started in 4 USOC matches and assisted Dwyer's late winner against Houston. Right from the start on opening day, you could see Dia was not going to be afraid. Yes, he made mistakes, but he never looked out of place.

After that first game Vermes was already really high on the young player. "This kid not only has the ability to play in that position right now, but the potential for him going forward is tremendous."

He was caught out of position and gave up his fair share of a big chances for opposing teams, but he's in a difficult position to learn on the fly and his mistakes will be magnified. But he played both sides of the field as an outside back and shown he can be dangerous going forward on either side. Now he knows the drill, now he knows he's got the talent. It's going to be exciting to watch Dia progress.

None of these guys were ROY in MLS. But they proved once again how successful Sporting KC is with the draft. They played very important minutes and were a big part of making the season what it was for KC. The three of them were called upon and each one of them stepped up to the occasion.