This is Part Three of our three part series looking at Sporting Kansas City’s roster heading into 2018. Be sure to read:
Part One — Goalkeepers and Defenders
Part Two — Midfielders
Over the last few seasons we’ve grown used to this team statistically dominating matches by all standards - except the only one that really matters - goals. With seemingly everything going right but for one final touch, we now turn attention to the most scrutinized group of the roster.
Diego Rubio - The 24 year old Chilean had some big shoes to fill when he stepped up after the Dom Dwyer trade. While he didn’t necessarily set the world on fire, it did not take much to surpass Dwyer’s goal tally. I like Rubio and swapping him for Dwyer felt at worst like an even trade. With more time he could find another level to his game. But is he THE man that Sporting KC needs? In order to take a step forward and end this frustrating streak of early playoff defeats, SKC simply cannot be content with hoping Rubio becomes that man. He is under contract through next season (with a team option for 2019) and I’m hoping to see him next season as a very solid backup to a new, lethal #9 coming soon.
Gerso Fernandes - The 2017 Sporting KC Offensive Player of the Year is under contract through 19’ and will be back next season. That title feels misleading as The Gershow faded down the stretch. He fell out of favor with Vermes and the exact reason isn’t clear. But Gerso was guilty of not tracking back at times and that directly contributed to at least one goal. Vermes requires a lot out of every position and if a player isn’t doing every last one of those things he won’t hesitate to go with someone else. Gerso has this offseason to secure his starting spot on the wing although it could potentially get more crowded up front for Sporting.
Daniel Salloi - The team has the option for 2018 on Salloi’s Homegrown Player contract and they would be crazy to not bring him back next season. He scored three goals (two assists) in the regular season and added a few more in the Open Cup, including what proved to be the Cup winning goal against NYRB in the final. Daniel is one of my favorite players on this team and I think he has the potential to make people forget about Krisztian Nemeth.
Latif Blessing - Latif is under contract through 2019 (option for 20’) and we’ll definitely see the speedster again next season. We need to get him to cut out the diving and develop some composure in front of goal, but there is so much to like about Blessing. His first year was an overall success and the 20 year old will only continue to improve. I still think he bent the rules of physics to somehow miss a few open nets this year, but he proved he can be a contributor to this squad.
Cristian Lobato - He joined the team in June and started six matches in ten appearances. He scored his only goal of the season in a 1-1 draw at Columbus. I think Vermes & Co. were hoping for a bit more support out of Lobato this season, but this signing can prove valuable. Although he’s listed as a midfielder, he appeared frequently in the attack. At times he looked a bit passive & tentative. The physicality of MLS was rough on him, but I’m interested to see him after he’s had more time to adapt. The Barcelona native is under contract through next season with an option for 19’. I expect he’ll be around next year as a midfielder/forward.
Soony Saad - How many of you got to this name and said, “OH YEAH!?” If you forgot about him, who can blame you? He played just seven minutes since August 12. Surprisingly, he logged 453 minutes over 12 appearances & was credited with a garbage time assist in a big win over RSL. He actually got robbed of a REALLY impressive goal at one point in the season when the referees didn’t see it cross the line. But the problem is that small moment is the only thing to talk about. He’s under contract next season (with an option in 19’) but I can’t see him being around much longer. Vermes seemed to give him another chance this year and he failed to take advantage. If/when the team signs attacking reinforcements, Saad may very well get pushed out.
Gianluca Busio - I’m putting the 15 year old Homegrown Player higher up this list because he created quite a name for himself this year playing for the United States U15’s and the Sporting Academy. He became the second youngest player to EVER sign an MLS contract. Plenty of teams overseas are sure to come calling for the potential future star and that’s why Vermes was quick to lock him down. As an SKC fan I would love to see him with the first team at some point. But for the good of the USMNT, I hope a big club buys & properly develops him into a world class player.
Kharlton Belmar - Belmar made his first appearance in the Open Cup while on loan from the Rangers and then was signed by Sporting KC in September after a successful USL campaign. Going into the USL Final, Belmar has 15 goals & three assist. He got his first taste of MLS in October and hopefully that will keep him hungry to get back. The team has an option for him in 2018 and I’m inclined to think he will be back. This may depend on who/what is brought in this offseason, but Vermes clearly likes him.
Cameron Iwasa - We did not see Iwasa with the first team for a single minute this year. He spent some time with the Rangers netting two goals and an assist. The club has an option for 18’, 19’ and 20’ on Cameron but I definitely expect him to be released. He is expendable when you look at the other talent with the Rangers.
Cameron Porter - He made just one appearance for 21 minutes before injuring his ankle in training and ending his season. Hard to think Porter was able to show Vermes enough in that short amount of time to earn another contract, especially while recovering such a serious injury. I actually like him but I’m hoping to see enough of a shakeup that there is no more room for him.
Outlook - Robb Heineman and Peter Vermes have made it clear this team needs a proven scorer and they’ve been working to acquire one. This attacking core may have been a weak link but there is still a lot to like. They’ve got youth, pace, potential and now they’ve got some MLS experience. Those listed above would be a great supporting cast to a new deadly striker in the center of the attack. Now that they have a full season with SKC under their belts I am eager to see what Salloi, Blessing and Gerso can do next season. But there simply must be some movement in this department if SKC want to remain in the upper echelon of MLS.
Help from Swope Park - Belmar was the true standout from the Rangers attack and he was rewarded with his first team contract. But he was far from alone. Lebo Meloto had nine goals & four assists and Nansel Selbol had another good year with nine goals & two assists as well. They’ve also got Mark Anthony Gonzalez. After a very impressive 2016 he dropped down the depth chart this year but finished the season with five goals and two assists. SPR shows a lot of promise for the future and you know they’ll bring in another experiment or two for next season as well.
Stay — Rubio, Gerso, Salloi, Blessing, Lobato, Busio, Belmar?
Go — Iwasa, Porter, Saad?