Before you read about the defenders, catch up on the goalkeepers and the true battle for who is second and who goes to Swope Park.
Sporting Kansas City has a gluttony of defenders heading into 2018 with 12 players capable of playing on the back line on their roster. Many young players were brought on by Sporting KC this offseason to balance out the aging starting lineup that was so tough to beat last year.
I divided up the twelve players into three categories: the likely starting back line, those ready to spot start, and those who will likely spend most of their season with the Swope Park Rangers.
Graham Zusi - RB
Graham Zusi enters 2018 in his second season as the starting right back for Sporting KC. He started 24 matches and contributed six league assists in 2017 in what was viewed as a successful position switch from the wing, where he was starting to decline. Zusi adds some attacking prowess on the wing in a Peter Vermes system that loves to push its wingbacks forward. Zusi’s contract runs out at the end of the year and he’s got Colton Storm and Jaylin Lindsey waiting in the wings behind him, as well as Brad Evans on an option for next year, so it may be the last year we see him in a Sporting KC kit.
Ike Opara - CB
The reigning MLS Defender of the Year was one of the biggest reasons for Sporting KC’s stalwart defense in 2017. He started 30 matches and was a rock in the center of the line. His height and aerial ability make him useful on the defensive side and dangerous on the attack (if Sporting KC could have consistent set pieces that is). Opara is the best defender on the squad at this point and will be key to Sporting KC’s defensive success in 2018.
Matt Besler - CB
The Sporting KC captain is coming off a fine 2017 where he improved upon a shaky 2016. His average WhoScored.com rating went up from 2016 last season but it is still below where he was in the early part of the decade. Besler has seemingly lost a step but is still a solid defender and a great partner in the center of the back line for Opara. Besler is also in the last year of his contract.
Cristian Lobato - LB
So apparently Cristian Lobato has a good shot to be the starting left back for Sporting KC in 2018. He’s gotten the lion’s share of the minutes at the position in the preseason. He only appeared in six matches for Sporting KC last season and is a “jack-of-all-trades” type player that Peter Vermes loves. We’re not certain he’ll be the starter the whole season, but it looks like he might be penciled in for opening day.
Next Man Up
Emiliano Amor - CB
Amor is an exciting young player who was loaned in by Sporting Kansas City this offseason, coming from Vélez Sarsfield in Argentina. The 22-year-old centerback has an option to buy at the end of the season from Sporting KC, so Sporting KC will likely look to get a lot of use out of him, especially since a lot of the centerback depth is very young and inexperienced. When Opara or Besler are out, look for Amor to get a shot.
Amer Didic - CB
Amer Didic earned a senior team contract last May but did not make any appearances for Sporting KC last season. While Brad Evans slowly returns from his back injury, Amer Didic is the #4 centerback on the roster. With a healthy Evans and Amor on the depth chart, Didic might be more of a Swope Park Rangers candidate, but he could still see some action.
Brad Evans - CB, RB
Sporting KC signed the 32-year-old free agent late in the offseason but he brings a wealth of experience. He has certainly fallen off the past couple of seasons but can back up three positions on the back line, as well as defensive midfielder, and is a very good passer. As long as he is used sparingly enough, he should be a decent reserve defender. He is returning from a back injury that could delay his full participation in the lineup.
Jaylin Lindsey - RB
One of the first Sporting KC players born this millennium, Lindsey played well enough in preseason to ask the question of whether he should be Graham Zusi’s primary backup. He’s been a star on the United States U-17 squad, but his youth and inexperience could be damaging if he’s forced into the role too early.
Jimmy Medranda - LB
Jimmy Medranda has bounced around the field in his five seasons with Sporting KC, getting some time recently at left back. The 24-year-old shows flashes but can never truly put it all together to be a regular starter. With Seth Sinovic and Cristian Lobato also at left back, Medranda might see more time in the midfield rather than on the back line.
Seth Sinovic - LB
Seth Sinovic has already lost and won the left back starting job a couple of times already in his career, so starting off the season second on the depth chart is familiar territory for the 31-year-old. Heading into his eighth season with his hometown team, Sinovic is reliable, although he has been faltering the past few seasons. If Lobato can’t be consistent, look for Sinovic to reclaim the starting job.
Matthew Lewis - CB
Lewis became another Homegrown signing for Sporting KC this offseason, joining the senior team from the Sporting KC academy. He’s still very young and raw, so spending time getting minutes for the Swope Park Rangers in 2018 seems to be the best option for Lewis.
Graham Smith - CB
One of Sporting Kansas City’s 2018 draft picks, Smith can play either centerback or defensive midfield. With a crowded centerback field and not much wiggle room in the defensive midfield either, Smith will probably get sent to the Rangers for development.
Colton Storm - RB
Colton Storm’s position on the depth chart is interesting. There’s Brad Evans as a natural backup to Zusi but Storm is also probably surpassed by 17-year-old defender Jaylin Lindsey. Storm doesn’t seem to have a place on the senior team this season and it would not be surprising to see him waived at some point in 2018.