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11 Desperate Observations from Sporting KC’s 4-0 Preseason Win

We couldn’t watch the game just like you, so let’s over analyze the recap.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City fans (and clearly writers) are definitely desperate for some soccer. The offseason has been going since early October 2019 and the team finally took the pitch to open preseason today. Now, results don’t really matter in preseason. Lineups don’t matter. Really, nothing today probably means much of anything.

Knowing all that, let’s look way too deep into the lineups and scores that were released by the team from their 4-0 win over Phoenix Rising FC’s trialists today. First, here is the raw data from that story. There were three lineups rolled out over three 30-minute segments. Four goals were scored, three of which were assisted. Here are the lineups that took the field. (Note, it appears all lineups are listed as follows: GK, RB, RCB, LCB, LB, CDM, CM, CM, RW, CF, LW).

First Period: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Roberto Puncec, Matt Besler, Luis Martins; Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez; Khiry Shelton, Alan Pulido, Daniel Salloi

Second Period: Richard Sanchez; Jaylin Lindsey, Graham Smith, Botond Barath, Amadou Dia; Camden Riley, Tyler Freeman, Gianluca Busio; Felipe Hernandez, Erik Hurtado, Gerso Fernandes

Third Period: John Pulskamp; Cameron Duke, Graham Smith, Kaveh Rad, James Kasak; Camden Riley, Tucker Lepley, Jake Davis; Jaret Townsend, Wilson Harris, Wan Kuzain

Roberto Puncec Started at CB

Last year, Andreu Fontas and Matt Besler started together in the first preseason game. They were the starters when CCL and MLS play began. Then again, Rodney Wallace, Kelyn Rowe and Erik Hurtado (Krisztian Nemeth was hurt) were starters too and that clearly didn’t mean anything.

In 2019 they seemed to put some veterans with the 2nd team for leadership (Seth Sinovic, Roger Espinoza). Fontas is of course unavailable right now as he’s still recovering from surgery, but I’m choosing to believe this points to Puncec having a decent chance of starting with Besler. Then again, they could just want to get them next to each other to see what they have.

Johnny Russell Didn’t Play

There is probably a quick explanation for this. He just arrived in Arizona for preseason after the birth of his child. Congrats Johnny! He was injured earlier in the offseason but all indications are that it was minor. I imagine he’ll play next Saturday against FC Cincinnati.

Daniel Salloi Already Scored!

The first goal of the preseason came off Daniel Salloi’s foot. That’s a welcome sign for a player who didn’t score until the penultimate game of the 2019 season against the Portland Timbers. Here is how the goal is described in the recap from Patrik Bergabo:

“Sporting took the lead in the 23rd minute when Luis Martins’ low cross was gathered by Alan Pulido with his back to goal, and the newly signed Mexican striker laid the ball off to Daniel Salloi who swept his finish into the bottom corner to make the score 1-0.”

It’s a plus to see Salloi score. But it’s nice that Luis Martins, who is supposed to be a very offensive fullback and new DP signing Alan Pulido, are already contributing. I’m personally interested to see if Martins makes strides after being with the team for longer and through a preseason.

Shelton Started on the Wing (it appears)

Possibly a by-product of Russell not playing, Khiry Shelton got the start on the wing (assuming it was a 4-3-3 and not some other formation). Peter Vermes obviously likes Shelton enough to bring him back and you have to wonder if it means anything that he was next up on the RW ahead of someone like Gerso Fernandes who lined up with the second team (at LW). Shelton put in minutes on the LW when he was still with New York City FC, so it could be he’ll play all three forward spots in 2020. Also, it could be the team just didn’t have enough wingers and wanted to see Shelton in that spot.

Gadi Kinda Didn’t Play

Much like Russell, he arrived so late to preseason this is also hardly a surprise. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes him to get onto the field. I suspect he’s fit since he was in the middle of his season and he should be available next weekend.

Other Quick First Lineup Observations

  • Graham Zusi started at right back over Jaylin Lindsey. We’ll see if Lindsey gets “first team” minutes as fans and pundits desire to see him break through in 2020.
  • The midfield was the standard of Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza and Felipe Gutierrez.
  • Vermes hasn’t lost confidence in Salloi despite his down year. Hopefully he’ll return to form in 2020.

Eric Dick Was Missing

In the second team, new addition Richard Sanchez appeared instead of Dick at goalkeeper. Then on the third team it was Sporting KC II keeper John Pulskamp. It could mean Dick is dealing with some sort of injury — though that is entirely speculative as I have no inside information.

(Update 1/27/19: According to a post on Big Soccer, Erik Dick actually played for Phoenix Rising against the SKC first teamers. Since no lineup was released and no media wasn’t present, I cannot confirm this, though it seems possible as Dick has been loaned to other USL clubs in the past to get minutes. The poster does go on to state that Adrian Zendejas played in goal from them last season, and as someone who was there, I definitely don’t remember that happening. Though I was asked not to report PRFC’s trialist lineup last year, Zendejas was the 3rd keeper for SKC that day.)

Camden Riley Played Over Kuzain

If the lineup order has any meaning then Riley appears to have played holding midfielder for both the second and third lineups. Considering Riley is on SKC II’s roster and Kuzain is on the first team roster, that’s interesting. It would be my preference to see how Kuzain does with other first team players. Kuzain is also listed as a winger based on lineup order but I suspect someone like Tucker Lepley could have played that role for the 3rd team and Kuzain could play at the #8. There is no way to be sure though.

Cameron Duke Played RB

When Cam Duke’s signing was announced, Vermes indicated he could play right back. The team lists him as a midfielder, though they’ve been known to convert midfielders to fullbacks before. It could simply be they had no one else to play fullback and there is nothing more to read into it. Also, considering how deep the team is at midfielder (Gutierrez, Espinoza, Ilie, Kinda, Busio, Hernandez, Kuzain and Duke), maybe right back is a better way to ensure minutes. He could play there for SKC II on loan and be ready long-term when Zusi is gone to compete with Lindsey.

Busio the Goal Scorer

Salloi may have scored first but Gianluca Busio scored second and third. Here are the descriptions of the goals.

“Gianluca Busio doubled the lead midway through the second period, forcing home a loose ball that just crossed the line following a goalmouth scramble generated by good work from Gerso Fernandes on the left wing.

Busio added to his tally in the 50th minute, curling home a sumptuous first-time strike from the edge of the area after being found by fellow Academy product Tyler Freeman, making the score 3-0.”

The fact that he got a poachers goal and a likely longer curler seems like a good sign Busio is ready to breakout. He’s a natural goal scorer and hopefully he’ll do it a lot in 2020.

Other Quick Second and Third Lineup Observations

  • Wilson Harris, who scored a lot of goals down the stretch for the then Swope Park Rangers kept that going by adding a goal today (the team’s fourth and final one of the afternoon).
  • Hernandez and Freeman were listed out of position but I suspect Hernandez played in the midfield and Freeman out wide.
  • The SuperDraft picks (James Kasak and Jaret Townsend) made their debuts with the third team. Kasak earned an assist from left back. I’ll be interested to see if they catch on with SKC II.
  • SKC beat the PRFC trialists 7-0 in 2019 a year ago today. Though they’d been in camp weeks longer at this point and had already played their first game (also a 4-0 win). The PRFC game last year was longer too as it consisted of two 45-minute segments followed by a 30 minute segment.
  • In total, Russell, Kinda, Fontas and Dick were the only players on the 27-man roster to not appear today.
If you read through this whole thing, then you are as desperate as I am for Sporting KC soccer. What did you notice that I missed? Join the conversation in the comments below.