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Sporting Kansas City Season Preview: Defense

A look at the 2017 back line for Sporting Kansas City, including a “newcomer” in Graham Zusi

MLS: Desert Diamond Cup-New York Red Bulls vs Sporting KC Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

With Sporting Kansas City set to kickoff their 2017 campaign this Saturday against D.C. United the staff here at The Blue Testament got together and voted on who we believe will be the starters in Peter Vermes’ 4-3-3 system. We started with goalkeepers and now it’s time for the back line to get their turn.

Sporting Kansas City opens their 2017 season on Saturday and they could see some new faces on the back line. Here’s a run through of the 2017 defenders and how much playing time they’re likely to see.


Graham Zusi

Graham Zusi played a little bit at right back last season and has started to play there for the national team. He’s played mostly winger in his time with Sporting Kansas City and also has experience in the midfield, making him an extremely versatile player. He would have to usurp Saad Abdul-Salaam at the right back position but, based on preseason lineups he stands a great chance. He’ll be an interesting person on the right side as he’ll add an attacking presence behind Gerso Fernandes and really make that side dangerous. Vermes’ system has seen fullbacks press forward and add to the attack, which makes Zusi a good fit for the position.

Matt Belser

The Sporting Kansas City mainstay will once again return to the center of the defense. He’s 30-years-old and is the anchor of the back line, as well as a known commodity. His positional awareness allows his center back partner to be riskier in their defense. He, as well as Zusi, will likely miss some significant time over the summer with the Gold Cup. He sat on the bench for several games last season and lost his captaincy in 2016, so 2017 might be looked at as a rebound year for Besler.

Ike Opara

After checking to make sure he wasn’t injured after his name was typed, Opara was slotted in to the projected starting lineup. He’s been a solid member of Sporting KC for the past few seasons but has been injury prone and missed a lot of time. He played in 25 matches last season and scored one goal. He is very beneficial to Sporting KC because of his jumping ability, which makes him a threat in the box.

Seth Sinovic

Seth Sinovic missed a lot of time last season with a concussion, only playing in nine matches. Still, he looks primed to re-gain his starting spot, replacing Jimmy Medranda who started for him last season. Sinovic isn’t a goal-scorer but has been a solid left back for Sporting KC for the past few seasons. He’s a veteran presence and a known commodity in Kansas City.

The Bench

Erik Palmer-Brown

The young centerback could get some substantial minutes this season, though his own availability will be limited. He is sure to get a call-up to the U-20 national team for the U-20 World Cup in May and June and has been captaining the team during Sporting KC’s preseason. There’s also the possibility that he gets sold during the summer, so his impact on Sporting KC this season is in flux. Still, he’s a very good option for Sporting KC with Besler missing time during the Gold Cup.

Saad Abdul-Salaam

Abdul-Salaam was the primary right back for Sporting KC last year and is a very good bench option behind Graham Zusi. He doesn’t provide a lot offensively but provide six assists last season and can shut down a counter. With Zusi missing time due to the Gold Cup, having a starting-quality right back in Abdul-Salaam will be very beneficial to Sporting KC.

Jimmy Medranda

Medranda has been in a state of flux for most of his career with Sporting KC. He’s been tried out as a winger, as a left back and is now getting some time in central midfield. He was the primary left back for Sporting Kansas City last year, so if Sinovic gets hurt again they’ll have someone with an attacking bite as a decent second-stringer, but he may also see time in other positions. He’s very fast and creative, but hasn’t converted a whole lot.

Kevin Ellis

The Kansas City-native saw some good time last season with 14 matches. He also added a goal and an assist to his season-long stat line. He’s a step below the other three centerbacks on Sporting KC’s roster but will likely see some good minutes this season with two of the centerbacks ahead of him missing time for national team duty. He can also play right back in a pinch, but Sporting KC is chock full of right backs so he’ll likely stay in the center in 2017.

Igor Juliao

It’s the second time around for the Fluminense right back. During his first stint with Sporting KC, he showed a lot of speed as a right back without the defense to compensate. The 22-year-old will spend the season on loan to Sporting KC and could be used as an option for fresh legs when Sporting KC need a goal but likely won’t be used as a purely defensive sub. There’s at least two better right backs than him for that.

Possible Rangers

Tyler Pasher

The 22-year-old left back was signed by Sporting KC this offseason after spending 2016 with the Swope Park Rangers. He’s very fast and could be used as an attacking sub for Seth Sinovic. He can also play left-wing if necessary. Depending on how Sporting KC wants to use Jimmy Medranda, Pasher can either be the second-string or third-string left back for the club.

Colton Storm

The newly signed right back faces a lot of competition with Zusi, Abdul-Salaam and Juliao all ahead of him. Since he’s so young, he could get loaned out to the Swope Park Rangers since it’s not very likely that he will see a lot of minutes this season.