The return of MLS is still three weeks away due to the outbreak of COVID-19 but teams have started making moves to fill out their rosters. Outside of the shock return of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to the league (with Inter Miami), most moves are signings of Homegrown players. Wikipedia actually has the most current, comprehensive list of Homegrown players actively in MLS.
You’ll see Sporting Kansas City have nine current Homegrown players, including Richard Sanchez who signed a Homegrown deal with FC Dallas (the most prolific team at signing Homegrown players) before making his way to the Chicago Fire and ultimately, SKC.
For this exercise though, let’s focus on the players Sporting KC have signed to Homegrown deals. That list is 13 players long starting with goalkeeper Jon Kempin back in 2010 and most recently including fellow goalkeeper John Pulskamp in 2020. Of those signings, five have yet to make an appearance for the team (and two never will as they were cut the year they were signed).
Limiting ourselves to just MLS regular season stats (since other stats are hard to come by unless your name is fellow The Blue Testament writer Mike Kuhn), it may surprise you to know the Homegrown player who has the most minutes is actually Kevin Ellis, who is currently out of the league. For this story, we’ll focus on players stats with SKC (full stats at the bottom of the story), though Ellis had a pretty solid 2018 with a bad Chicago Fire team (20 appearances, two goals, four assists as a defender) before being unceremoniously cut in August of 2018.
Best Homegrown Signing to Date
This one is up for debate, but from a statistical standpoint, it has to be Daniel Salloi. He has the most appearances (79) second most starts (54), minutes (5,004) [both behind Ellis], most goals (15) and most assists (10) of any Homegrown. He had an amazing, team Golden Boot winning 2018 season, before dropping off a cliff in 2019. If he ever returns to form is still in question, but he’s made a strong impact and gotten on the field a lot. After 2018 it seemed he was destined to be sold for a good transfer fee, now we are just hoping he can find his shooting boots again.
Biggest Missed Opportunity
This seems like a no brainer and has to be Erik Palmer-Brown. EPB only made 20 appearances for Kansas City before heading to Manchester City in the Premier League on a free transfer (and subsequently out on numerous loans). Palmer-Brown was probably not ready to be an every day start in KC but it would have been nice for him to stick around and be the right center back next to Matt Besler today (or last year). And who knows, maybe he’ll come back some day as Sporting maintain his rights in MLS. Lessons from EPB will surely be learned in regards to the next player.
Current Homegrown with the Most Potential
This could go one of two ways, but I’ll go with the obvious answer: Gianluca Busio. While he has just over 1,000 minutes of MLS play under his belt during the regular season, the spark of brilliance is there. He seems poised to break out at any moment and of course, Sporting will definitely learn their lesson and sell him on without letting him walk for free. Busio is under contract through 2020 with team held options for 2021 and 2022 and he will definitely be sold before that contract expires or gets within it’s final six months when he can sign a pre-contract (you can track all the Busio to Europe rumors here).
The other direction you can go with “most potential” based on what we’ve seen so far is Jaylin Lindsey. He looks poised to take over the starting right back spot in the relatively near future (Graham Zusi is only signed through 2021) and I could see Lindsey sticking around for a decade (though he too told The Blue Testament he could see himself in Europe). While Busio will make the team millions of dollars in a transfer fee in the not too distant future (which can be spent in all sorts of ways to help the team), Lindsey could be a perennial MLS All-Star and United States National Team contributor if he breaks through. He just needs to earn his chance.
Results are Starting to Show
While three of the last four signings haven’t gotten on the field just yet for the MLS club (and Felipe Hernandez barely has after signing late in 2019), there is real potential in those signings [Since this story was originally written, Cameron Duke got his first appearance].
Be sure to watch lots of Sporting KC II to see those players in action since the return of the USL Championship is imminent. But the wave of guys signed before that (Salloi, Busio and Lindsey) are starting to impact the first team play more and more. And beyond that, there are extreme talents in the SKC Academy like Nati Clarke and Gage Akalu who are just out over the horizon and could/should be signed in the future.
Peter Vermes has said repeatedly that MLS teams didn’t know what they were doing with academies for at least the first five years after they were mandated to be formed in 2007. And that shows. But as the team grows the SKC Academy will play a more and more important role in the future.
Below are the SKC only stats for all 13 Homegrown signings in team history (Kempin in particular got most of his playing time with other clubs). I expect over the next couple of years that these numbers could soar and real, tangible contributions will come out of some of these guys and some of the future signings (or at least they’ll be sold for a nice fee).
Current Homegrown Career Stats
Since this story was written, Sporting KC added a 13th Homegrown signing in striker Wilson Harris (10/21/2020).