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Six player observations from Saturday’s Sporting KC preseason match

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The result was not what mattered. Mostly.

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Gadi Kinda was in action for SKC Saturday
Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Sporting Kansas City took to the field for the fourth time in their preseason in Arizona this past Saturday, the first of three 2020 Visit Tucson Cup tilts. Here are six player-specific observations from the match.

Luis Martins

As Vermes has said before, a summer acquisition (Martins was purchased in late July) is made with full integration the next season being the goal. That being said, the Portuguese-born, Benfica Academy product was thrown into the fire in 2019, getting nine starts in ten appearances in the last ten matches of the season.

The results were a mixed bag. The left back first looked hesitant and disjointed, as expected. Though there were plenty of moments of strong attacking play, he was a part of a miserable end to the season where the defense was sometimes shredded. Not all of that can be pinned on him.

Now, however, the 27-year-old seems to be much more in command of Sporting’s system. Saturday he was flying up and down the wing, sending in precise crosses, and defending well when called upon via strong positioning and good one-on-one ability.

A strong complement to Zusi on the right has always been the ideal. Early 2020 indications say they have found it in Martins.

Roberto Puncec

The 28-year old veteran center back of leagues in his native Croatia, Israel, and Germany… well, I will say it simply, without drama.

Good on the ball. Good distributor (which is key for a center back in Vermes system). Solid defensively. Will have to see if he can be occasionally spectacular defensively, because the spectacular will be needed.

Alan Pulido

Although I was a little underwhelmed with the 28 year-old’s ability to create for himself on the ball and his hunger near the goal on Saturday, the fringe Mexico International did many things well in this one match.

Most of the strong moments for the #9 came in his skilled hold up play and combinations to release teammates into the open field and combinations near and inside the box. Clearly, more time learning the tendencies and strengths of his fellow schemers will mean bigger dividends. And one preseason game certainly does not a season make.

Khiry Shelton

No words about the past here. Looking forward. Which is exactly what I hope Shelton does more of this season.

The wing experiment, is, clearly, an experiment designed to see where the 26-year-old, 6’3”, Texas-native fits best and where he can get some playing time, if not at center forward. He has played wing before.

Against Real Salt Lake Saturday, Shelton provided some good combination play and hold up on the wing. He even seemed to be a bit more clever and confident on the ball, though his movements are still often mechanical instead of flowing.

Gadi Kinda

Uh. Wow. I don’t want to get too up on the 25-year-old Ethiopia-born-and-Israeli-bred midfielder. But, yah. On the ball, he flows. Want some slashing-and-dashing, some daring, flashy play in the Sporting Kansas City midfield? You got it in Gadi, and not kinda.

Even more exciting is Kinda’s ability, nay, desire, to create separation from his marker off the ball. A little shoulder shrug or teasing trot one way and a burst another. And his first touch is quick and into space. Take note young players (and Khiry Shelton).

Here’s the key. His play will open up defenses and allow Pulido, Gutierrez, Russell, and Gerso/Salloi to shine. And he will get on the end of some himself. And how about his already developing connection with Pulido? There were many workings on Saturday.

Johnny Russell

What a difference when he came in for Shelton. See how he drew the defense? If not for a few mis-timings with Pulido, there would have been some Mexican dancing (albeit of the preseason type) on Saturday. Russell remains Sporting’s most skilled finisher. It is all our hopes that Pulido changes that.

Overall

Saturday’s match was about the attack against a bunker. Yes, the result – a nil-nil draw – raises fears (nightmares?) of past struggles.

But the additions of Pulido and Kinda and Martins’ full integration on the attack, combined with those of Puncec and Shelton, and perhaps Winston Reid, make the 2019-2020 offseason one of the best in Vermes’ reign already. Only the season will tell if it is the best ever. The potential is there. Notice the ages of these additions, sans Reid? 27. 28. 28. 26. 25. Not green potential. Not last hopes of glory. Primed for glory.