Incumbents: Tim Melia, Adrian Zendejas
Additions: Eric Dick
Subtractions: Andrew Dykstra (traded to Colorado Rapids for a second-round SuperDraft pick)
Let this past offseason serve as a lesson for all Sporting Kansas City fans: just because a position is widely seen as a definite strength on the depth chart does not mean that Peter Vermes will not pull out the stops to upgrade at that position.
It is something we have seen before from Vermes, when last offseason he brought in Ilie “Uri Rosell 2.0” Sanchez to play defensive midfielder despite Soni Mustivar’s workmanlike performances in that role, and this offseason, we saw it again when Vermes selected local goalkeeper Eric Dick, who originally hails from Roeland Park, in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft. What seemed like a relatively straightforward, unchanged depth chart going into preseason with Tim Melia as the undisputed first-choice keeper, veteran Andrew Dykstra as his deputy, and his heir apparent Adrian Zendejas getting much-needed playing time with Swope Park Rangers was suddenly thrown into flux. As a few of us on The Blue Testament writing staff shared privately, a penny for Zendejas’s uncensored thoughts on draft day would have been a penny well-spent.
While some definite question marks went up in the minds of the TBT writing staff when we saw the selection of Dick, some of those questions were put to rest with the subsequent trade of Dykstra a few weeks later to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft.
(A final word, if you’ll permit me, on Andrew Dykstra: He was thrown into a near-impossible situation last year, with Tim Melia suffering an injury right as the club was going through a difficult stretch of games that once again took all the wind out of its sails going into an abbreviated playoff run. The dropoff from Melia to Dykstra was noticeable, but Dykstra’s presence in 2017 allowed the club to focus on its long-term goal of developing Zendejas by giving him consistent playing time at SPR.)
The big question that has not been put to rest yet is which of Sporting KC’s two young goalkeepers, Zendejas or Dick, acts as Melia’s primary backup while the other presumably starts for SPR. Both keepers have received lots of preseason playing time as Melia returns to fitness from what has to be an injury, and while the practice reading the preseason tea leaves must always come with an asterisk, it was Zendejas who most recently was getting playing time with first-team center backs Matt Besler and Ike Opara in the 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution.
Zendejas also has the advantage of incumbency: he knows the SKC/SPR system by now, he is an SPR fan favorite for his penalty shootout heroics in last year’s USL playoff run, and if I were a betting man, he would be my pick for who Vermes would tap if Melia is unable to start on Opening Day in just several days’ time.
Melia, of course, should return to the #1 job, provided he is fit, and the fact that he went the full ninety minutes in the 3-2 loss to Portland Timbers indicates that he is, despite some questions earlier in the preseason. He is coming off a career year in which he won the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, and with that plus two US Open Cup championships and an MLS Comeback Player of the Year award to his name, he can stake a claim to Kevin Hartman’s position as the third-most successful Kansas City keeper of all time behind the duopoly of Tony Meola and Jimmy Nielsen.
It may seem odd that Melia is the afterthought in this position preview, but it is in fact a testament to how definitively he has made this position his own. Along with mainstays like Besler and Opara, Melia’s name rightfully remains one of the first on most lineup cards, and I would expect that to continue throughout Sporting Kansas City’s 2018 campaign.
The depth chart at goalkeeper with Melia re-entrenched in his first-choice position should be a relatively simple matter of who the club believes will benefit the most with starts at SPR: Zendejas or Dick. It is entirely possible that the club elects to rotate the two between the SPR starting position and the job of being Melia’s deputy, but such a job-sharing arrangement could end up being a case of the club trying to have its cake and eat it too.
Forced to stare into my Magic 8 Ball and make a prediction, I would guess that Zendejas ends up on the bench behind Melia with Dick at SPR, but those of you who recall my boosting of Justin Mapp as a possible free agent signing for the club will recognize that I have been known to be wrong before.
As always, have your say in the comments, and be on the lookout for the rest of our positional preview series, focusing on defenders, midfielders, and attackers.