The first half of the 2019 Major League Soccer season is one that Sporting Kansas City fans would probably like to forget. With their loss to Real Salt Lake along with the other results from the weekend they went from being a point out of the playoffs in 9th place down to last place in the West and five points out of the playoffs.
Last week we asked you all to vote for our midseason awards and now Thad Bell (TB) and myself will weigh in as well. For the rest of the story, unless it’s labeled as (TB) then the thoughts are all my own.
Most Valuable Player (MVP)
The fan vote ended with Johnny Russell in first place with 37%. Second place was Gerso with 30% and third was Ilie Sanchez with 19%.
TB: “For me it’s a toss up between Johnny and Gerso but I lean towards Gerso. Even when he has not scored he stretched the defense and opened up room for others.”
I went another direction and chose Ilie. When the team is this bad, it’s tough to choose anyone but the defensive midfielder is such an important position in KC’s 4-3-3 formation, as was obvious when he wasn’t around. It could be argued Roger Espinoza should win this because the team has been in poor form since he went down but it’s hard to include someone in the poll who has barely played.
Most Impactful Injury
Speaking of Espinoza, he was the runaway winner in this category with 59% of the fan vote and both Thad and I voted for him too.
TB: “Espinoza being injured has made a lot of people realize how important he is to SKC.”
Espinoza is the engine in the midfield and he’s been sorely missed. The trade for Benny Feilhaber has helped, but they are just different players. In addition to Espinoza’s energy being missed, he provided cover for Graham Zusi to roam forward at right back to wherever he wanted to go on the field and without Fontas showing any pace, Zusi definitely missed Espinoza (and Ike).
Offensive Player of the Mid-Year
This was very parallel with the MVP voting going: Russell (46%), Gerso (41%) and Nemeth (10%). Thad and I both voted for Gerso too and it comes back to what Thad said in the MVP voting. Even though he has zero goals in MLS play, he is the outlet that is making everything else possible on offense. He is creating for his teammates and his runs creates a lot of space for his teammates. Russell was around for much of the rough stretch SKC suffered through (as was Nemeth) but the team looked lost without Gerso which showed how important he is (or how disappointing Daniel Salloi has been so far).
Defensive Player of the Mid-Year
The fan vote mirrors Thad and I’s votes. It went Matt Besler (34%), Tim Melia (25%) and Botond Barath (24%). This is another one of those votes that show how important someone is when they aren’t around. Fontas has basically been useless when he’s not next to Matt Besler but he was fantastic when they were both healthy at the beginning of the year.
Sure Besler had a very off night against RSL on Saturday, but he is what makes the rest of the backline work.
Newcomer of the Year
This was another runaway category with Barath getting 60% of the vote (though Nicolas Hasler has a respectable 30%). As I said in my Best/Worst salary values piece, Barath takes a hit for me because his arrival made Ike Opara expendable and the team probably could use Ike right now. That said, Thad and I both voted for Botond as well.
TB: “Barath has been close to the best defender, certainly the most consistently good.”
I have to agree with Thad that Barath has been mostly good this year and clearly the most athletic center back on the roster. He’s a great luxury as a third center back and will hopefully be around for years to come.
This was a relatively close vote with Gerso winning it (42%) but Gianluca Busio (33%) and Krisztian Nemeth (25%) not too terribly far behind.
TB: “Gerso went from barely playing to be the best player on the field.”
I’ll admit I voted for Busio in the poll, but the more I think about it, Gerso kind of makes sense. At times last year I was talking about trading him (or him wanting out because he wasn’t playing). He’s improved though by leaps and bounds.
And while Busio has gotten better too, he still has quite a few leaps forward he can take. Had he been around more he could have made a bigger impact but he’s missed time with his head injury and with being away with the United States U-17’s at CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.
Now let’s move on to the negative categories.
The vote was pretty split among the fans and the top three vote-getters all have a case for being pretty disappointing. Winning by the narrowest of margins was Graham Zusi with 35% of the vote, followed by Andreu Fontas (33%) and Daniel Salloi (23%). Thad went a completely different direction and voted for Yohan Croizet who got just 4% of the fan vote.
TB: “After watching how much he improved last year and hoping for that same level or better this year, it has been really disappointing to not see him make more of an impact.”
I’ve come to Yohan’s defense more than once and I have to agree the other three are all greater disappointments. I personally voted for Andreu Fontas because he makes north of $1 million and at times he’s been the fourth best center back on the roster behind Graham Smith. He’s still new to the system but it’s clear how much Besler has meant to him as he can’t seem to play well consistently with Smith or Barath.
Zusi won the fan vote and it has to be because he’s dropped off a cliff. He was arguably the best fullback in the league in 2019 (maybe the defender of the year) and now he’s not the best right back on the team. As we’ve detailed it could be because of father time, missing Ike’s covering speed or missing Roger’s positional awareness to cover when he goes forward. Maybe he’s just been hurt and when he’s healthy that old Zusi will return.
This one actually ended in a tied vote among the fans. Both pulling in 45% of the vote were Ike Opara going to Minnesota United and the swap of Diego Rubio for Kelyn Rowe and $300,000 in Garber Bucks.
It’s not hard to argue the Ike trade looks bad right now. The defense has been awful and historically they’ve been quite good with Opara back there. Time will tell if this possession oriented system will make us forget Ike’s crazy athleticism.
Open play goals allowed— Nathan Martin (@NMthenoise) June 30, 2019
First 17 games: 23 goals
2013-2018 avg: 24 goals#SportingKC
Thad and I both voted for the Diego Rubio trade.
TB: “That irritated, chip on his shoulder style that Rubio provides is missed at the moment.”
I’ve been against the Rubio trade from day one. I’ve been trying to give Kelyn Rowe a chance and I still hope he turns a corner. But right now he appears to be about sixth in the midfield depth chart behind Gutierrez, Ilie, Feilhaber, Zelalem, Croizet and Busio (not to mention seventh when Espinoza returns). That was the position he was brought in to play. He’s probably fifth on the wing too (where he’s gotten the most time) behind Russell, Gerso, Salloi and Croizet.
If Rubio was around he’d be getting on a lot just to spell Nemeth and pushing him to be better. He could even take starts over him and allow Croizet to focus on the 11,000 other positions he plays instead of trying to add CF to the mix. With Peter Vermes benching Nemeth at halftime against RSL it’d sure be nice to have Rubio start against Los Angeles Football Club Wednesday instead of potentially Yohan.
Here is hoping for a better second half of the year.