Yet another edition of our 31 part series looking at the 31 biggest stories in 2016 in Kansas City Soccer. Click the 31 for 31 group link above or here for all the stories.
2016 was actually Jimmy Medranda's fourth year on Sporting Kansas City. This is despite the fact that he's still only 22-years-old. Coming into 2016 Medranda had primarily lined up in the midfield or out on the wing, despite a little experiment in 2015 where he played left back. Before this season, Medranda had a combined 13 appearances (eight starts) for 558 minutes. In 2016 he made 28 appearances (22 starts) for 1,939 minutes. Not only that but he tallied his first goal and a couple assists in league play.
For Medranda, his emergence was a little surprising for some. He could honestly be considered the first Swope Park Rangers success story. He played marvelously in their inaugural game and was immediately called up to Sporting KC. His call-up was likely partly due to how good he looked in his lone USL game and partly because of the vast amount of injuries SKC were experiencing on the wing. And the wing is where Medranda would line up, at least at first.
Then on May 15th, Medranda re-emerged as the surprise left back of choice. Amadou Dia and Seth Sinovic had split time at the position up to that point. After that, Medranda essentially owned the job outside of a few games towards the end of the year.
How good of a left back Medranda was is up for debate. Defensive stats are hard to come by but as of the August 18th Audi Player Index, Medranda was ranked as the second best left back in the league, behind only DaMarcus Beasley. After that date, they didn't rank the positions again, but Medranda did fall from an average score of a 267 to 207. A huge part of that drop was the August 27th game against the Philadelphia Union where he was issued a yellow and a red card and scored a negative 639. I'd love to dig deeper into the Index, but unfortunately not all the scoring is transparent (like almost everything in MLS).
A deeper search of the stats, per Rotowire (a fantasy site), showed that Medranda had 102 tackles, 75 interceptions, one block and 37 fouls committed. The problem is, who do we compare him to? Beasley missed too much time this season, so I did some searching. I'd like to use the MLS Best XI, but they only had center backs (and no Sporting KC players). A lot of sites list Ashley Cole as the best left back in MLS. That could just be due to him being a big name. Goal.com had Ronald Matarrita as the best of the mid-year. Let's compare:
*Medranda has zero red cards because technically he got two yellows in the same game.
As you can see Medranda is the leader in tackles and interceptions and also has the most fouls and cards. He accomplished that in less minutes than either of his cohorts. This is also Medranda's first year playing this position. Over time, one would assume, he'll get better at his new job.
The Eyeball Test
Regardless of what you think of the limited defensive stats that are out there, Medranda passes the eyeball test for me. He's all over the field with his energy (which could be good or bad). In Peter Vermes' 4-3-3 fullbacks are expected to get forward in the attack. Medranda is well suited for this considering he spent so much time playing winger before becoming a fullback. Graham Zusi is actually another example of this. While he had limited minutes at right back, he seemed like a good fit for the role. It could be argued that maybe Zusi is a right back in Vermes' system instead of a winger. I'm not sure I'd like to pay DP wages for a fullback, but that's another story.
"But Medranda Should be a Winger"
A lot of fans out there don't seem upset with Medranda's performance at left back, but they want him playing on the wing. They see him as an attacker that is forced to be back on the defense instead of being an asset up in attack. I have a few counter points for that. First, a lot of people that see Medranda in practice note that he doesn't score a lot of goals. Those same people have even said players like Connor Hallisey put it in the back of the net consistently in practice. That leads me to believe that despite how wonderfully creative Medranda is on the ball, maybe he isn't a natural scorer. What he is a natural at is delivering beautiful crosses into the box.
Jimmy is Reckless
Some out there make the case that Medranda is reckless and the stats support that. He had far more fouls than the players we compared him to. And I agree with that sentiment to a certain extent. He would often go to ground when he didn't need to. Even when I think he cleanly won the ball he would often get a foul called because of the speed of play and him going to ground. Sometimes the fouls were legit, sometimes they were not. Over time, one would assume he'll play with more control.
Besler Suffered with Medranda Next to Him
This is the only argument I actually may consider as valid for why Medranda shouldn't be a left back. Matt Besler has a long standing relationship with Seth Sinovic, who has consistently been the left back before last year when injuries started to catch up with him. Besler would go on to have his worst season since becoming a consistent starter. So bad that he would end up on the bench while healthy and lose his spot as the captain of the team. Now maybe this was Besler's fault. Or maybe Besler was over compensating for Medranda or putting himself out of position not realizing that Jimmy would make it back in time because of his speed. This feels impossible to know, but it could be a thing.
All in all, the future seems bright for Jimmy Medranda and Sporting KC. He is just so young and still has so much promise. He's the cheapest starter on the team and the left back job seems