We’ve made it! The end of our positional previews for the 2018 MLS season. Before you can hear about the forwards, let’s work our way through the rest of the roster.
Sporting Kansas City have somewhere between seven and 10 forwards, depending on how you slice it. We’ll break it down by likely starters, back-ups and those likely to be with the Swope Park Rangers.
Johnny Russell - LW
It’s not 100% clear which wing Johnny Russell will start on, but make no mistake, he’s been brought here to start. He’s been prominently featured with Derby County in the English Championship since 2013 and over that time he’s scored 31 goals and added 23 assists. Just the improvement he’s shown since his first preseason game against Phoenix Rising to his third game where he picked up an assist against the Portland Timbers has been drastic.
He will start and I suspect on the left wing for the first game. I imagine he’ll flip a lot and if and when Salloi starts, Russell will move to his preferred right wing.
Khiry Shelton - CF
Shelton picked up an injury early in the last preseason game against the Timbers last Saturday. That said, he’s reportedly fine. Going into preseason I believe everyone thought Diego Rubio was the starter. A lot of pundits are still picking Rubio to start and he very well could. But some fine reporting from our own Bob Russert seems to show Shelton is the first choice.
He is definitely not the Designated Player caliber #9 Vermes and Heineman promised in the offseason, but he wasn’t on the roster at the end of last season and that’s really all Vermes said. Shelton has basically been ineffective for New York City FC for the last three years, getting just six goals, 10 assists and 2,485 minutes in three seasons. Maybe that’s because he was out of position on the wing (because David Villa, duh) but we’ll likely get a look at Shelton over the first couple months of the season.
Yohan Croizet - RW
I’m not alone in thinking Croizet belongs in the midfield. He can’t stop from cutting inside and he doesn’t seem to know where he should be when playing on the wing. He said it himself he’s a #10, but if preseason matters (and it’s quite possible it doesn’t) then he’s going to start on the right wing.
When Croizet was brought in he was supposed to be the Benny Feilhaber replacement. He’s bounced around Europe but only got five goals in 43 appearances with his last club KV Mechelen. He had a stellar year with OH Leuven pulling nine goals in the year before moving to Belgium.
Weirdly, these were the starters when the 2017 season ended.
Diego Rubio - CF
Last year’s starter CF could very well be this years starter. I personally would start him and let him wear down defenses and then bring Shelton on in the 60th minute to use Shelton’s speed and size to shred defenses. Let’s not forget, Rubio’s goals per 90 for his abbreviated 2017 was actually better than a goal every two games, which is what you want from a striker. But he did go ice cold down the stretch when it mattered most.
Daniel Salloi - LW
He just signed a new two year contract this week (with two option years). He’s going to be very good and he very likely should be the starting left winger (with Russell sliding to the right). He seems to be a natural goal-scorer and he’s still only 21-years-old. He scored six league goals last year and I fully expect him to eclipse that in 2018.
Gerso Fernandes - RW
Based on what we saw in 2017, Gerso is a better RW than Croizet already. It’s unclear if Vermes isn’t confident in him or if he’s not confident in himself (he did injury both shoulders fairly severely last year). Either way, he’s not played with the “starters” at all in preseason. Despite that he scored twice and didn’t look bad. He had a career year with eight goals in 2017 and many fans were hoping to see improvement after he got an offseason of rest. Even if he doesn’t start right away, the thought of him coming off the bench with all that speed in the second half has to be terrifying to defenses. I’m OK with him being a sub in that regard.
Medranda and Lobato
Sure, these guys were in the defensive and midfield previews (or both) but they can and probably will get minutes on the wings. I don’t expect either of them to start on the wing but when subs are made they both have positional flexibility to play out wide in the attack when needed. It’s neither of their best positions but they are in that jack-of-all-trades mold that Vermes loves.
Swope Park Rangers Loanees
In 2017, Belmar actually lit it up in USL. He ended up with 15 goals before getting a first team contract. Most of those goals came from playing on the wing, but he looked quite good at center forward as well. He’s played both for Sporting during the preseason. I’m not sure how much time Belmar will actually get with SPR but he probably has 5-6 guys ahead of him on the Sporting KC roster. I hope he gets his MLS chance as his speed is brilliant and he’s pretty good at putting the ball in the net.
Vermes said Busio can play any of the attacking roles for SKC. Throughout preseason he actually played in the midfield at the #10 but his ability in front of the net could necessitate moving him further up in the attack. I expect him to basically spend the year with the Rangers unless he lights USL on fire (or injuries necessitate a call back up).
Zach Wright would have definitely been here too, but after just a month with the team he’s gone. Weird.