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Sporting Kansas City 2019 MLS Preview

SKC has four trophies to win, and they want them all.

MLS: Champions League-Toluca at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

How did they finish in 2018?

After finishing atop the West (18-8-8) and breaking a trend of early postseason exits, Sporting Kansas City reached the Western Conference Final. But the Portland Timbers ended the run right there in a thrilling match at Children’s Mercy Park.

They were third in the Supporters’ Shield race and contenders for all three domestic trophies, but coming home empty handed falls below this club’s lofty standards.

What’s new in 2019?/Biggest change from last year?

Peter Vermes has been the model of consistency and will be proud of the fact that this team looks quite similar the 2018 version, but there were indeed several changes. The biggest of which will be a lack of Ike Opara. The lovable centerback had been a mainstay of the SKC back-line for years, but he was traded to Minnesota in exchange for up to $1 million in allocation money.

Andreu Fontas, who arrived last summer from La Liga, will be tasked with replacing the former MLS Defender of the Year. Fontas brings a little more technical ability on the ball having been developed in the famous La Masia (Barcelona Youth Academy).

Opara’s incredible athletic ability allowed him to contribute on both ends of the pitch and his absence will undoubtedly be noticed - on and off the pitch.

Who’s out?

Ike Opara, Khiry Shelton, Diego Rubio, Kharlton Belmar, Amer Didic, Cristian Lobato, Brad Evans, Colton Storm

The other change to the starting lineup will be at the top of the attack. Shelton & Rubio, the top two choices at striker in 2018, have also departed. The former wanted a new challenge overseas but the ladder was a surprise to many. Rubio had scored eight goals in limited minutes and was the first choice striker for much of SKC Nation. Trader Pete saw this as a great time to sell high on the Chilean.

Who’s in?

Kelyn Rowe, Rodney Wallace, Botond Baráth, Erik Hurtado, Abdul Rwatubyaye

Looking for a fresh start, Kelyn Rowe joins from the New England Revolution. The versatile midfielder is a great fit for Vermes’ system and is likely to see a lot of minutes as Sporting juggles three competitions. Wallace is another solid addition who brings depth and experience out wide. 26-year-old Hungarian Botond Baráth is set to serve as backup centerback. The speedy Hurtado fits in behind Nemeth at striker and brings a different style to the attack.

What’s the new jersey?

The new jersey this year is a Sporting Blue primary with diagonal stripes across the front. The kit is trimmed with Dark Indigo and includes Adidas’ famous three stripes down each side.

Also yes, I agree, those do looks like tire tracks.

Projected starting XI

(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Graham Zusi, Andreu Fontas, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic, Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez, Gerso Fernandes, Krisztian Nemeth, Johnny Russell

Gerso and Daniel Salloi competing for the starting job on the left wing will be fun to watch for Sporting KC fans this year. Another spot to keep an eye on is at left-back where Rodney Wallace may rotate heavily with Sinovic.

Expectations for 2019?

There are four trophies on the table this year. They want them all.

This is a small market team but you can’t tell that to anyone in Kansas City. The club promises silverware and the fans expect to win. Vermes has SKC in the hunt for at least one title every single year so fans are used to it. They were so close to MLS Cup last season and that feeling is still lingering. Much of SKC Nation will truly be expecting at least one trophy.

What did we learn last season about this team?

2018 taught us that Sporting has an incredibly balanced lineup. They are not dependent upon one or two guys to score and create goals. The front three are dangerous, the whole midfield is capable, and even the outside backs can hurt you! On top of that, the bench is filled with plenty of firepower as well.

Who is THE player to watch on your team, and why?

There are a lot of eyes on Krisztian Nemeth right now. Is he the long lost striker this team has been searching for? Peter Vermes is making that bet. Which is why he let go of Shelton and Rubio this off season. A bold move, considering Nemeth scored just one goal in his nine appearances last season.

If he can return to his 2015 form (or even close to it), SKC will be very scary this year.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

The production of Nemeth is a big question going into the season and it is what the vast majority are concerned about. A common theme has been disappointment in the failure to sign in a DP striker. But Sporting KC broke the club record for goals in a season with 65 last year. They scored more than all but one team in MLS. And they did it with a striker who couldn’t score.

My concern will be the defense. Make no mistake - losing Opara hurts. The understanding and connection between everyone in back was vital to their success. Captain Matt Besler will be rock solid once again but the other two centerbacks are new to MLS. Fontas made all of two appearances last year and Barath only just arrived. They’ll have to adapt to MLS very quickly as Sporting hunts four trophies.

Will this team care about CCL/U.S. Open Cup?

Yes.

They are all-in for Major League Soccer, Concacaf Champions League, and US Open Cup. As in 100% on each - for a total of 300%. If it’s in front of them, they want it. This roster PV has assembled is well-rounded, versatile, and deep.

Take it from Matt Besler himself (via SBI Soccer):

“The people who say that some of these games don’t matter, like Champions League or Open Cup, you know, they’re just extra games or extra competitions, that’s crazy to us.”

Our goal is to try and win everything we can.”

Who’s the player fans will learn to love?

Kelyn Rowe is a big personality who will charm KC on and off the field. After a couple tough seasons, he’s motivated and happy to be with his new club.