On December 10th, Sporting Kansas City signed striker Alan Pulido to a four year contract. Since that day, nothing has happened (besides the schedule release). And now we are officially in that dead time of year between Christmas and New Years where nothing tends to happen.
It felt like the perfect time to assess where Sporting KC sit in terms of depth across all their lines. And to take a wild stab at who will start and who will be the various backups (and see where the needs still live).
Let’s take it front to back.
Starter: Alan Pulido
Backups: Khiry Shelton, Erik Hurtado
PV has made it very clear that Pulido was signed to be a starter at striker (even if that may not be his best position). No matter where he lines up (winger, attacking midfielder), he’ll get plenty of minutes as the most expensive signing in SKC history (and frankly, one of the biggest in league history).
The battle to be his backup should be a good one. With Shelton you either love him or hate him. Hurtado possess similar skills and could push him for minutes. Both players could also be used as wing depth. They should definitely be used to close out games where SKC are in the lead.
Starter: Johnny Russell
Backups: Gerso, Shelton
It’s probably not even worth debating who should start out wide on the right. Johnny Russell has made it his position over the last couple seasons. Gerso has been capable when asked to shift to the right so he can cut in (like Russell) on his dominant left foot. Shelton will provide defense and pace when needed.
Starter: Gerso Fernandes
Backups: Daniel Salloi, Tyler Freeman, Shelton, Pulido
Salloi isn’t the starter until he proves he can put more of his chances away. Gerso provides that burst of speed unlike anyone else in the attack (though Pulido is apparently quite fast too). As for the other depth: Freeman didn’t make it onto an MLS field in 2019 and he may not in 2020. Shelton can play here and while Shelton and Hurtado are playing CF, I could see Pulido out wide too just to keep him on the field.
Overall Forward Depth: I wouldn’t be surprised if no one else is signed. With three CFs and four wingers (plus CFs who can play the wing) the team may be set. It wouldn’t be bad to have another option on the wing though.
Starters: Felipe Gutierrez, Roger Espinoza
Backups: Gianluca Busio, Felipe Hernandez, Cameron Duke, Kuzain
Sporting KC don’t really play with an attacking midfielder. So we’ll call the starters the dual #8s for now. However, I’ll make the case below for something different.
Undoubtedly Gutierrez is a starter. Next to him will probably be a rotation of Busio and Espinoza. Roger is 33 and in the final years of his ability to play the way he does. He needs to rest and not be an every game starter. Busio is also on the verge of breaking out before he’s ultimately sold abroad in the next 18 months. Kuzain didn’t play at all in 2019 and Duke was signed late in the year. After being one of the deepest positions on the field in 2019 this spot suddenly looks a little thin.
Holding Midfielder (#6)
Starter: Ilie Sanchez
Backups: Gutierrez, Kuzain, Fontas
I’ll go ahead and state Ilie continues to be the starter here. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Gutierrez get quite a few starts here with Ilie either coming on late or playing more center back since Ilie’s lack of pace was more noticeable without Ike on the field. If Guti starts, then Busio and Espionza will likely be ahead of him with a potential future signing spelling one of them. This is where SKC could play with a #10 (Busio — or even Pulido) with Espinoza going box-to-box.
Overall Midfield Depth: This is probably one of the biggest needs on the team. An injury to any of the starters would suddenly leave this position very thin. I’m big on Felipe Hernandez but he could be a couple years away. If Sporting want to spend big, they should do it on a future Roger Espinoza type.
Starter: Graham Zusi
Backups: Jaylin Lindsey, Duke
I’ll put Zusi here but this job is Jaylin Lindsey’s to take. His injury in 2019 came at a bad time. Zusi was poor and the opening was there for Lindsey to take a bigger role with this club. Hopefully he’ll get his chance to break through and Zusi can just spell him or provide depth in the midfield as needed. When Duke was signed PV also said he could play right back, so he could be in the long term battle for this job with Lindsey.
Right Center Back
Starter: Roberto Puncec
Backups: Botond Barath, Graham Smith, Ilie
Okay, stay with me a second. Puncec hasn’t earned the job yet but he is apparently an injection of sorely missed pace. If he comes in and performs, his speed could cover for whoever is next to him on both sides. He’ll never be Ike Opara, but he has a chance to start. Barath should get his share of minutes here but he’s clearly best used as a third center back. As for Smith, if all goes well, he’ll be with Sporting KC II all year.
Left Center Back
Starter: Matt Besler
Backups: Andreu Fontas, Smith, Ilie
Despite Besler’s age (33 in February), he’s probably the day one starter. However, Andreu Fontas is really a left center back and if he’s still around come opening day (Sporting KC can buy out his contract if they choose to move on — which I doubt will happen) I suspect he’ll be Besler’s backup. Despite his injury history, if he can stay healthy he’s younger (just turned 30) and he is under contract a very long time.
Ilie on the other hand has the potential to be a nice depth option at CB. He can see the field like Besler and Fontas and play a nice long ball to the wingers or CF as needed. He’s also not bad in the air.
Starter: Luis Martins
Backups: Unsigned Player, Lindsey
Luis Martins starts by default. Gone are Seth Sinovic, Jimmy Medranda and Yohan Croizet who all played left back at times in 2019. The team clearly needs to add someone here. They have five open roster spots. Lindsey, as he showed in 2018, can fill in at left back as needed.
Overall Defense Depth: The team clearly needs a backup left back and the case could be made they may need a starting CB still.
Starter: Tim Melia
Backups: Eric Dick, Richard Sanchez
This isn’t even close. It’s Melia all day. If he gets hurt or needs a rest, it’ll be interesting to see who steps in. Dick and Sanchez are the same age (basically) and they’ll spend time riding the pine or on loan with SKC II in 2020. Neither currently looks like a MLS caliber starter.
That is 25 roster spots filled. The team has room to add five more (including two internationals as they traded for an extra spot in the Adrian Zendejas to Nashville SC trade). It’ll be interesting to see who they target (or who falls into their laps).