Sporting Kansas City will arrive in Tucson, Arizona on Sunday, January 22, 2017. They will participate in the Desert Diamond Cup yet again, though only one game is officially announced for SKC at the time this went to press. In the original release it was announced that Sporting KC will play in the in the Desert Friendlies as well as the tournament itself. No word on those games yet, but whether they ever come to fruition or SKC just play a bunch of scrimmages.
Regardless, those games will shape how the depth chart gets filled out. Whether it’s through the play on the field or injuries, we are about a month from knowing the answers to who is playing where. But who wants to wait a whole month? Here is my best guess/personal preference where these guys will line up, position by position.
Starter: Tim Melia
Backups: Andrew Dykstra, Adrian Zendejas
This is probably the easiest position group to figure out. Tim Melia has been the starter for basically the last year and half (barring injury) and ended the 2016 fairly strong. Andrew Dyskstra, who joined the club via the Re-Entry Draft, was only briefly a starter for the Chicago Fire, has primarily been a backup and he is likely to remain one.
Adrian Zendejas played for the Swope Park Rangers last year and took over as the starter late in the year and ultimately had quite a run. He never lost until the USL Cup Final (and boy was that a tough one), but that play earned him a contract with the senior team. He’s a candidate to go on loan back to SPR for the whole season, assuming no injuries to Melia or Dykstra force him to be called back up.
As for this week’s Third Round Pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, David Greczek, he basically has no chance to make the SKC roster (there is only one open spot right now). He could make it onto the Swope Park Rangers (though that’s not a given with last years third and fourth rounders not even accomplishing that).
Starter: Jimmy Medranda
Backups: Seth Sinovic, Colton Storm
This is very up for debate. Medranda started a majority of the games at left back last year and played quite well. Many believe he should be a winger and I’ve already made the case he should play defense (and a strong case at that).
It could be argued Matt Besler had his worst season ever due to Medranda and that is possibly the reason. Besler did look better when Seth Sinovic started several games towards the end of the year after Medranda was suspended. Preseason will probably hammer out this battle but I expect Medranda to win it and stay on the back line.
As for Colton Storm, he is a right back, but if he gets signed and if he doesn’t get loaned to the Swope Park Rangers, he’ll be the last resort at left back. He hasn’t really played on the left. He spent a half there in a combine game (which are admittedly not good examples, but it’s what was available) and played poorly. Peter Vermes says he can play on the left, so I imagine he’ll figure it out.
Starters: Matt Besler, Ike Opara
Backups: Kevin Ellis, Erik Palmer-Brown, Lawrence Olum
Besler has earned the benefit of the doubt, though even his position isn’t a lock. Ike Opara is being paid like the other starter, but injury concerns will mean he’ll share time with at least one other CB. My hope is EPB has progessed mightily during his time with Porto B in Portugal but you shouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Ellis is actually the primary backup or (*gasp*) even the starter.
Kevin Ellis is a player who is either loved or hated by most fans. He is surprisingly good at times but makes weird mistakes at other times. He is probably the best scoring option from the back (he did lead all MLS defenders in 2015). I personally would still like to see him play some fullback, but Vermes seems pretty set on him being a CB. [Side Note: I must have been mean to Kevin Ellis at some point because he’s blocked me on Twitter. I didn’t mean it Kevin! Feel free to message him and kindly ask him to unblock me, I promise to be nice(r)].
As for Lawrence Olum. He actually did pretty good last year for that stretch alongside Ike Opara. He made his mistakes, but so did everyone in the back. I like him quite a bit better at CB than I do at defensive midfielder and the signing of Ilie Sanchez should keep him away from that spot.
Starter: Saad Abdul-Salaam
Backups: Igor Juliao, Colton Storm
With the emergence of SAS as the starter at RB, there is suddenly no room for Chance Myers. If you were holding out hope that Myers would make his way back, the club just let new Designated Player, Gerso Fernandes, have his #7 kit.
As for the backup job, the returning Igor Juliao should have the advantage but unsigned SuperDraft pick, Colton Storm, could jump in there. It seems more likely he’ll end up on the Rangers. Juliao could push SAS for the starting job, but Abdul-Salaam has looked quite good since taking Myers job.
Starter: Ilie Sanchez
Backups: Soni Mustivar, Lawrence Olum
Mustivar has been pretty good over the last two season in Kansas City but his game started to dip last year. It felt like every game he had at least one really bad turnover. That’s why the signing of Ilie Sanchez, out of the famed Barcelona B club, is threatening Soni’s job.
Think back to the 2015 MLS Preseason. Mustivar rarely lined up at defensive midfielder. It was actually Sanchez’s former teammate, Jordi Quintilla (RIP — no he’s not dead, but his SKC career seems to be), who played most of those minutes. I thought Quintilla played well in that role, but apparently not well enough to stick with the team (I still wonder what the deal is with that move). If Sanchez turns out to be another star (he also played with Uri Rosell), then Mustivar would be great depth in the midfield.
As for Lawrence Olum, he should be an emergency option only. He is a much better fit at CB and he looked lost as a defensive midfielder last year.
Starter: Roger Espinoza
Backup: Benji Joya
Last season Roger Espinoza was the highest paid player on the club (and deservingly so). He has this role locked down and it’s really his backup that is up for debate.
The reason Joya is up for debate is many think he’s an attacking midfielder. He has said he prefers the #8 role, which is the box-to-box spot. If he fits there (and he played there in his lone appearance last year during the CONCACAF Champions League) then that seems like his best spot.
Starter: Benny Feilhaber
Backup: Graham Zusi
This is another no-brainer, if for no other reason than there are no more midfielders on the roster. Obviously Benny has had a fantastic last few years and he has a new contract, and raise, to go with it.
The real question is who will be the backup. Zusi probably really belongs in the midfield (or at right back, who knows). Benji Joya could end up as the primary backup here too, but that means this midfield (which realistically has 5-6 players) is an injury or two away from being in a bad way. No word on if any of these new forwards can play midfield.
Starters: Gerso Fernandes, Graham Zusi
Backups: Latif Blessing, Tyler Pasher, Cameron Iwasa, Daniel Salloi, Cameron Porter
Fernandes and Zusi are both Designated Players, so it seems pretty clear that they are expected to start. Fernandes should add a lot of speed outside, but he doesn’t have a history of scoring goals. We all know Zusi’s abysmal goal scoring record as of late. So that leaves this team a lot younger and quicker on the wing, but still without proven goal scorers.
With all that said, the team should still be better. All the youth should inject some life (and again, all that speed) to the outside. Maybe that will stretch defenses and pull players away from Dom Dwyer.
As for who will be the primary backup, it seems like a toss up that will really be figured out by preseason. It was reported a transfer fee was paid for Latif Blessing, but he’s so tiny that he may not be ready for the physical play of MLS (he’s on a three to four year deal, so he’s got time to figure it out). Think Daniel Salloi last year, he was talented, but so thin he was getting bullied in preseason.
Speaking of Salloi, where it initially seemed like he would be a center forward, Vermes said he sees him as a left winger.
Vermes on CF depth behind Dwyer w/ Rubio hurt: They have a few guys who can do it. Specifically mentioned Salloi at left wing. #SportingKC— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) January 4, 2017
Whoever doesn’t win one of the main backup jobs will likely find themselves with the Swope Park Rangers at least for a portion of the season.
Starter: Dom Dwyer
Backups: Christian Volesky, Cameron Porter, Diego Rubio*
Dwyer has 50 goals over just the last three season. 50! I think we are done here.
As for his backup, that’s not so easy. Diego Rubio was a Young DP, though that designation was dropped with the Gerso signing, but he is recovering from knee surgery and will be out for probably half the season. He should be the backup when healthy, but until then, there will be a competition.
Porter spent his limited league minutes (all 32 of them) on the wing but he looked better at center forward in the CCL game (the one that meant nothing). Volesky is much more clearly a center forward, having spent his last two seasons in that role for the Rochester Rhinos (USL). Over that time he scored 20 goals.
Hopefully preseason will lock down who will win this role and the other may need to head to SPR to ever see the field. Honestly, the better player may want to go to the USL to get on the field and be ready for a call-up to take over if Dwyer were to get injured (let’s not even entertain that thought).
We should know a lot more in a month, but as far as starters go, there shouldn’t be a ton of surprises. A few jobs are up for the winning and a few others could get competitive but I expect the starters to look pretty similar.
I’d love to know what you all think. Hit the comments and lets fight it out.