October 6, 2019. 141 days. That’s how long it has been since Sporting Kansas City has played an MLS match. After a very long off-season, it is finally time for Sporting Kansas City to kick off the 2020 season.
A LOOK BACK AT 2019
Before we look forward to the changes that have taken place in the off-season we need to look back on 2019 and remind ourselves of the season. We have done a lot of reviews, articles, chats and Tweets about the disappointment of the 2019 season, but in case you missed it all, here’s a quick review.
It wasn’t good. The team finished with a 10-16-8 record in regular season games. They finished the year with 38 points and in 11th place in the Western Conference. Sporting failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The team was riddled with injuries most of the season and it became clear that the team wasn’t as deep as it needed to be to play successful, competitive winning soccer with so many first-team players out.
WHAT’S NEW IN 2020
As a fan, the good news is that Sporting’s front office didn’t just sit back and say 2019 was just a fluke and hope that it got better. The team went out and made some big changes. Head Coach and Sporting Director, Peter Vermes, along with assistant coaches Kerry Zavagnin and Zoran Savic will be working with a team that saw the departure of several longtime members of the team and the arrival of many new faces.
Benny Feilhaber, Midfielder
Krisztian Nemeth, Forward
Seth Sinovic, Defender (signed with New England)
Jimmy Medranda, Defender (drafted by Nashville SC)
Adrian Zendejas, Goalkeeper (traded to Nashville SC)
Gedion Zelalem, Midfielder (signed with NYCFC)
Khiry Shelton, Forward (free transfer)
Gadi Kinda, Midfielder (loaned from Israel)
Roberto Puncec, Defender (free transfer)
Amadou Dia, Defender (free transfer)
Winston Reid, Defender (loan from West Ham United)
Richard Sanchez, Goalkeeper (Re-Entry Draft from Chicago)
BIGGEST STORY LINE
The biggest story line for the 2020 season will be the play of Alan Pulido. Sporting Kansas City has been looking for and promising a DP striker since Dom Dwyer left for Orlando City. The team has tried several different options since then, but none has been the goal scorer that the team and fans have expected. This off-season the team made a club-record transfer to bring Alan Pulido from Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara. Pulida was the Golden Boot winner for the previous Liga MX season.
Sporting Kansas City will be wearing a new secondary kit this year. Gone is the black and silver secondary kit and in its place we will see the new Swiss Dot kit. This indigo kit with Sporting blue dots feature silver lettering and numbers.
The summer tournaments could see a few Sporting members gone for their national team call-ups. Botand Barath is a regular call-up for the Hungarian National Team. Daniel Salloi also got a Hungarian call-up two seasons ago, but would have to have a really good start to the season to see another call-up. Johnny Russell is also a regular call-up for the Scottish National Team.
Alan Pulido, has had time with the Mexican National Team, but hasn’t been called up for any recent work. He has expressed his desire to get back on the team. Other players, including Felipe Gutierrez, Jaylin Lindsay and Gianluca Busio have also been called up to their national teams (or youth national teams) in recent seasons.
With preseason coming to a close this past weekend, we have seen what seems to be a first and second team emerge. The biggest areas of question appear to be on the wings with Daniel Salloi, Gerso Fernandez, Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton all getting time on the left, right wing or both. For many preseason matches Daniel Salloi and Khiry Shelton played alongside Alan Pulido in the center forward spot. The final preseason saw Johnny Russell start with Pulido and Shelton.
Outside of the wing position, the most difficult prediction is around Felipe Gutierrez who has been out injured in the last four preseason games. If he doesn’t start, expect Ilie Sanchez to resume that role.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2020
It is difficult to say just what the expectations should be for 2020. I think the one thing that we can be sure of is that Sporting should be back in the postseason this year. Not making the playoffs really shouldn’t be an option and isn’t acceptable. I am ever an optimist, but I don’t know that I would put Sporting in the top two or three of the Western Conference either. I think that fans should expect to see Sporting in the postseason and finish the season sitting around 5-6 in the West. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Sporting make a long run in the US Open Cup this season.
WHAT DID WE LEARN LAST SEASON
Last season taught us a few things. The biggest thing is that the good times don’t last forever. Sporting Kansas City fans had to deal with and react to the worst season in a long time. We learned that we still didn’t have a quality goal-scoring striker and to go along with that problem we had the new problem of our defense leaking goals. The team had a -18 goal differential. We also learned that maybe playing at Children’s Mercy Park didn’t mean a win as the home record last season was 7-6-4 and unfortunately winning on the road was a struggle too with a record away from home of 3-10-4.
THE PLAYER TO WATCH
Not surprisingly the player to watch this season is Alan Pulido. It will be very important for this team to quickly figure out how to play with Pulido as the center forward. Timing and being comfortable will come with more playing time together as a team. The fan base is going to be looking for Pulido to score goals early in the season or the conversation will quickly become about Pulido being a bust.
The defense is still the biggest concern for this team. It doesn’t matter how many goals Alan Pulido and the the rest of the team score if the defense continues to leak goals. Last season the defense gave up 67 goals! 67! Only FC Cincinnati gave up more goals. The team has added Roberto Puncec to play alongside Matt Besler as well as Winston Reid from the English Premier League and still has Botand Barath. Are those additions going to be enough to stop the waves of goals they gave up last season? Can the team play without giving the ball away in the midfield? Can they play out of the back without turning the ball over in dangerous places? Those are big questions that we will see the answers to in the coming weeks.
That’s it. No more time to talk about what to expect or what we are hoping for or how much better this team will be than last season. The time is here for the talk to stop and the action to begin. 2020 is sure to be interesting, exciting and hopefully successful.