A little over a year ago you could easily find me arguing that Soni Mustivar was the most important player on Sporting Kansas City. Not that he is the best player, he is far from it, but that he is the most important.
In the 4-3-3 system that Peter Vermes prefers the defensive midfielder role is critically important. Look in the clubs recent history and remember back to how important Uri Rosell was to that 2013 MLS Cup Championship team. Observe the drop off that occurred when Uri was replaced by the recently departed (not dead, just traded) Lawrence Olum. Look at how bad the team looked when Soni Mustivar was injured in 2015. They went from looking at a potential treble to barely making the playoffs.
That brings us to offseason signing Ilie Sanchez (ill-E-A). While he has only started a couple preseason games, he has looked good. Really good. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch the streams of the games. He isn’t just doing what a defensive mid needs to do when he protects the back four, cuts out passing lanes and just generally causes disruption in the midfield, but he has shown a lot more.
Look no further than those beautiful long passes out to the wings where Gerso Fernandes and Latif Blessing are running into miles of space. Not to mention those quick passes that go forward up the middle and do so quickly. This is in stark contrast to Mustivar who makes short and quick passes.
I realize this is all happening during preseason, but the pedigree is there. Uri Rosell and Sanchez played for Barcelona’s B Team (as did Jordi Quintilla for that matter). The difference is Rosell made just six appearances. Sanchez has 114 appearances and was the captain of the team. Vermes called Sanchez “Uri 2.0.” That is really high praise. Don’t believe me? Go watch the Sporting KC Fan Forum for yourself.
In an offseason that was full of exciting new signings (see Gerso, Blessing), Sanchez will probably be the most important guy. There are suddenly a lot of quick, young players that will fill out the wing spots that were so lacking last season, but Sanchez has the ability to make everyone around him look better.
There is no doubt in my mind that Sanchez is the starter at defensive midfielder. If he doesn’t play every game (and let’s be honest, he won’t), Soni is a more than capable backup (heck, he could and should start on lots of other clubs).
No offense to Olum, but this midfield is a lot better with the guys it has now. Benji Joya looks like a destroyer (again, I realize it’s preseason) and the future at that #8 spot behind Roger Espinoza. The only real question is who is the backup for Benny Feilhaber (my money is on Medranda now, despite what it seemed like in the offseason).
This team will still have it’s ups and downs, but with Sanchez, it suddenly looks a lot better. Less than two weeks before things start happening for real in the Nation’s Capital against D.C. United.