The Desert Diamond Cup got underway when Sporting Kansas City met the Colorado Rapids and battled to a lopsided 1-1 draw (they dominated everything but the score). Here are 20 things I’ve observed over the first three scrimmages.
Dwyer and Besler are Back from Surgery
Matt Besler made his return from ankle surgery in a loss to the Revolution and Dom Dwyer came back from the exact same surgery against the Rapids. Besler played 30 minutes then 45 the next time out. Dwyer put in 30. It’s good to see them both back and they both looked good.
Opara Nearly Got Hurt Again
Every year Ike Opara gets hurt, it’s just a matter of how bad. Against the Rapids he took a boot to the knee, stood up, then immediately collapsed. It looked bad but then he finished the half. Last year at the DDC he pulled a hamstring. Ike always gets hurt, thankfully this wasn’t a big deal.
Didic Seems like the next SPR to SKC Move
Amer Didic is the only player on the Swope Park Rangers roster that is still with Sporting KC (from what I could tell). He is playing in the second set of center backs with Kevin Ellis and seems like he’ll be moved to SKC if Opara were to get injured. If the club signs Colton Storm then someone else may need to go to make room for Didic. Didic did have a fantastic goal against Colorado.
EPB Can’t Start Without Minutes
Erik Palmer-Brown should be fighting for a starting spot but he’s with the US U-20 National Team preparing for World Cup qualifying. It’s great for EPB’s international career but it seems unlikely that’ll he’ll have a chance to be a Day One starter or even to usurp Kevin Ellis as the third center back on the roster.
Gerso Looks Fantastic
New Designated Player Gerso Fernandes has looked very dynamic in limited preseason action. He is blowing by defenders, out maneuvering them and just plain making them look silly. Now he just needs to show he can score goals (something he hasn’t historically done). Maybe with him and Dwyer playing together more his play will give Dwyer room to finish more of his passes.
Latif Blessing is Tiny
Blessing and Gerso are both listed at 140 pounds, but it doesn’t even look close. Blessing looks so much smaller than Gerso and he is getting knocked off the ball very easy. So much so that referee Alan Chapman warned him for diving. I’m not sure if he was diving or if it’s just that he isn’t strong enough to stay up when contacted.
Salloi Looks to Have Grown
Daniel Salloi was skinny and weak, like Blessing, in 2016. It’s been a year and it looks like Salloi has grown in both size and ability. He played pretty well in limited appearances for the Swope Park Rangers (10 appearances, four goals, three assists) and he looked threatening against the Rapids.
Benny is Picking up Where he Left Off
Whether you are thinking of the end of the 2016 season when Benny Feilhaber dominated the Sounders in the playoffs (yet somehow lost) or his two appearances with the USMNT, Benny looks great. He just needs someone to get on the end of one of his passes or crosses and the assists will start rolling in.
Is Medranda a #10?
Jimmy Medranda played pretty freaking good at left back last season but he’s been in the midfield for his three preseason appearances. He also has played as a left winger but he may have a new home. SKC potentially doesn’t have a backup for Feilhaber, who seems likely to be away with the United States men’s team. He hasn’t had much of a chance to shine but he’s looked pretty decent in limited minutes.
Seth Sinovic May be the Starting Left Back
Speaking of Medranda, his move to the midfield has removed the main competition for Sinovic to be the starting left back. I’d say Medranda outplayed him there last season, but Matt Besler looked terrible at times with Jimmy next to him. Sinovic is a much more vocal leader and organizer from that role, so he may be the guy. This may be my only miss on my depth chart predictions.
Pasher Looks MLS Ready
Tyler Pasher, who I was projecting as a winger, may be MLS ready at left back. He’s spent all his preseason time there and he did play there a bit for SPR last year. He is soooo much faster than Sinovic and looked great on his run, cross and assist against the Rapids. He may not get loaned straight to SPR playing as good as he has. He’s technically the only SKC player to contribute to a goal so far (Christian Duke, Nansel Selbol and Amer Didic are the others, all SPR members).
Graham Zusi at Right Back
Zusi got the start at right back in his first preseason appearance this week. That continues the experiment Peter Vermes started last year and Bruce Arena has kept going with the National Team. Zusi got caught out a few times Wednesday, but the Rapids didn’t make him pay. Other teams probably will. That said, he looks great going forward and it seems he has less pressure to perform offensively as a fullback. Having him and Gerso on the same side looked exciting too.
Sanchez May Lead Mustivar for CDM
As I predicted, Ilie Sanchez may have a leg up on getting the center defensive midfielder job from Soni Mustivar. He’s started over Soni at that spot so far and has looked better. He’s also much more comfortable passing up the field instead of side-to-side like Soni. All that said, Jordi Quintilla got most of the preseason starts at that spot last year and we all saw how that worked out. Ilie isn’t Jordi, but it still might not mean anything.
Benji Joya is a Capable #8
With the retirement of Paulo Nagamura, Benji Joya has jumped on the backup job for Roger Espinoza. He has been all over the pitch, causing trouble, stealing passes and generally causing the opposing team trouble. How long before he takes the job from Roger? Well, let’s not get too carried away.
Adrian Zendejas Appears to be Melia’s Backup
Zendejas has played the second team minutes behind Tim Melia. New signing Andrew Dykstra hasn’t even sniffed the field sin the Earthquakes game. However I still expect Zendejas to play for the Rangers pending injury, though if Melia goes down, Zendejas probably won’t sit out like Jon Kempin did last year behind Alec Kann.
Speaking of Backups, Porter vs Saad
Cameron Porter and Soony Saad may be fighting for the backup center forward job behind Dom Dwyer (until Diego Rubio is healthy). Neither has really looked that impressive so far but Colorado has a pretty good defense. I always though of Soony as a winger but he played centrally for 45 minutes Wednesday. Even Christian Volesky got pushed to the wing.
Volesky Unimpressive So Far
Volesky has a lackluster appearance at CF early in the preseason, so much so he got pushed to the right wing against Colorado. He looked lost out there and never really found the ball and definitely didn’t get it anywhere near the goal. He seems likely to end up on the Swope Park Rangers.
No Sign of Saad Abdul-Salaam or Cameron Iwasa since Jan
Word is SAS picked up a knock, so I wouldn’t read too much into that. Iwasa on the other hand appeared healthy during practice but he hasn’t gotten on the field since the San Jose game. Iwasa seems like a strong candidate to end up with SPR this year.
Preseason Doesn’t Matter Much
Sporting are now 0-2-1 in preseason but I wouldn’t put much weight in it. They played numerous lineups against the Quakes. The Revs played their starters over 60 minutes in that loss and the Rapids actually had a bunch of starters in each half of Wednesday’s game. Plus SKC are juggling lineups and experimenting. If they don’t win starting in March then you can worry.
Thanks Instant Replay
There ironically was no replay of the first time Sporting KC fell victim to instant replay. Apparently Cameron Porter had a handball in the box that led to the game tying penalty kick. It’s a bummer that it cost the club a victory but it’s good that MLS gets calls right. Now if only there had been replay during the playoffs the Sounders would have had their goal taken away and I’d like to think SKC would have eliminated them.
Full video below so you can make your own observations.