2018 marked a progression in the long term plans of Head Coach Peter Vermes and the way he wants Sporting Kansas City to put a team on the field. For the last couple of years he’s stated over and over that he envisions a day when he puts out a starting 11 that is comprised entirely of Sporting KC Homegrown signings.
Last year was a huge step forward in that plan. Four SKC Homegrown players took the field at one time or another in 2018: Daniel Salloi, Jaylin Lindsey, Wan Kuzain and Gianluca Busio. On July 28th, Salloi and Lindsey started and Busio made his MLS debut, putting three Homegrowns on the field together for the first time that year in league play (on June 6th Busio, Kuzain and Lindsey all started against Real Salt Lake in a US Open Cup game).
2018 also saw SKC Homegrown players get more minutes than they ever have in team history. The four above mentioned players combined for 3,306 minutes across 49 total appearances last season. That is admittedly a little skewed as Daniel Salloi accounted for 29 of those appearances and 2,291 of those minutes as he became a regular starter as just a 21-year-old. Remove him and the minutes drop to 1,015 and 20 appearances.
One of the problems Vermes talked about was that even though “the young kids” got on the field more than ever before, they weren’t always getting long stretches of minutes. What would happen is they would be in the 18 and simply either not get on the field, or only get a few minutes late in a game.
“What I don’t want to do is, and we got into this a little bit last year, [Busio] was right on the verge of either starting or he was in the 18,” Vermes elaborated. “A lot of the times when he was in the 18, even if he got in for 10 minutes, that’s just not enough. So we’ve got to make sure that we take that piece out of us keeping him with the team and actually maybe let him go play 90 minutes with the Swope Park Rangers. Cause that’s going to be a big part of his development over these next couple of years. He’s really young, right. These guys are all really young. That still gives us the ability to use these next couple of years to really cut their teeth playing a lot of games.”
What PV leaves out is that Lindsey was in that exact same position, essentially being the backup left and right back, but he didn’t even get onto the field at all most games. Vermes has a plan to fix that.
The Plan for 2019
Over the course of preseason, Vermes has repeated that he has a plan for minutes and games for every player on the roster, but especially for the young players.
“I’d like to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 24-30 games for all the young kids that are on our team,” Vermes told The Blue Testament on Sunday. “Where that is, I don’t know yet. I would also include for some of those guys that’s going to be National Team games as well.”
This is something than many of us here at TBT have long advocated for. Having a player in the 18 but not getting minutes is likely not as good as getting up to 90 minutes with Sporting KC’s USL Championship team, the Swope Park Rangers. Especially considering all the players train together throughout the week before heading off to play with the B-Team. While Busio, Lindsey and Kuzain got on the field with SPR, for most of them, the minutes don’t add up to the 24-30 games that Vermes has planned for 2019. Honestly, in most cases, it’s not even close.
MLS Stats by Player
- Busio: Seven appearances, one start, 153 minutes, one goal, one assist
- Lindsey: Seven appearances, six starts, 555 minutes, one assist
- Kuzain: Six appearances, three starts, 307 minutes, one goal
USL Stats by Player
- Busio: 10 appearances, nine starts, 662 minutes, two assists
- Lindsey: Six appearances, six starts, 540 minutes
- Kuzain: 22 appearances, 22 starts, 1,935 minutes, four goals
Kuzain is the only player of the three youngest to actually get into the 24+ game window and it’s for two reasons. He didn’t sign to Sporting KC until April 13, 2018 and because he stayed on loan with SPR a lot more.
With the increased depth on the Sporting KC squad, the team will likely have the luxury of loaning Busio, Lindsey and Kuzain to SPR more frequently to get them more consistent minutes. In addition, it’s quite possible Jaylin Lindsey will get called up to the United States U-20 team for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland which runs from May 23rd to June 15th, which will give him more games towards his development.
A Lot Depends on CCL
With the CONCACAF Champions League set to kick off on the 21st of February, whether or not Sporting KC advance will have a lot to do with how much the kids have to play on the first team early.
“Some of it depends on how far we go in these competitions,” Vermes continued. “At that point we need a plethora of players, for sure.”
Whether or not they get past Toluca FC in Mexico, they’ll play again just three days later in LA against Los Angeles Football Club. That game, or the second leg game in Mexico, will likely require squad rotation with the extreme altitude. Lindsey, Busio, Kuzain and even rookie Homegrown Tyler Freeman have spent significant time with the second 11 players on the field in preseason.
If Sporting advance, the schedule just gets more brutal as we’ve documented. Instead of returning home after the LAFC game, they would head directly to either Panama or Toronto, depending on who advances, to play another CCL game. From there they’d stay home a couple of days to play the Philadelphia Union and the return game against Toronto FC or CAI (Panama’s CCL representative) before travelling to Denver on short rest to play the Colorado Rapids. If Sporting keep advancing, it only gets worse.
Because of all that schedule congestion, as well as the congestion the US Open Cup tournament will present and the shortened MLS season overall, it will mean that a larger portion of minutes in 2019 will likely go to Homegrown players than in 2018. All this doesn’t even factor in injuries, which accelerated the need for Busio, Lindsey and Kuzain to get on the field. While the squad depth is better, Lindsey is the primary backup at right back. Kuzain may be the primary backup at defensive midfielder. And Busio may be fourth on the depth chart at center mid behind Felipe Gutierrez, Kelyn Rowe and Roger Espinoza.
All of this without even mentioning Freeman who can play all four attacking positions on SKC and already has in preseason. He may be the third center forward, fourth or fifth winger and just behind Busio at attacking mid.
So for the fans that have been screaming to “play the kids,” that time may be now. They just may have to watch a chunk of Swope Park games to see a whole lot of them. And honestly, that’s something everyone should be doing to catch a glimpse of SKC’s future.