The year 2021 is here and with it come the hopes of a new year and hopefully the world getting back to a bit more “normal” situation for people. With all the hope for the new year here are my wishes for the year 2021 for Sporting Kansas City, the KC Comets, the new NWSL team in KC, Sporting KC II, and both the men’s and women’s national teams.
1. Silverware. As with every year, my number one wish is to win silverware, trophies. Sporting Kansas City is in its longest time without a trophy since the rebranding. A whole three seasons now KC has gone without winning a trophy. Kansas City has been spoiled over the last 10 years in terms of soccer. Not only with Sporting’s MLS Cup (2013) and US Open Cups (2012, 2015, 2017), but also the Kansas City Comets won the 2013-2014 MISL championship (then known as the Missouri Comets) and FC Kansas City winning the NWSL in 2014 and 2015. That doesn’t mean I’m not greedy, I want my teams to win silverware in 2021.
2. There is a 2021 MLS season. With the news this week that MLS is invoking a force majeure clause in the collective bargaining agreement there are fresh concerns about the 2021 season. The players’ union has already come out against this decision by the league. The situation has the potential to get ugly based on the players’ union’s comments and given their standing last year ahead of the new CBA they agreed to they’ve likely informed their players again to make sure they’re ready for a lock out.
3. Fans are safely allowed to return in full to stadiums. There is at least some light at the end of the tunnel of the COVID pandemic as a vaccine is available at this time. Maybe someday in the near future we’ll be able to see sellout crowds at Children’s Mercy Park again, as weird as that seems right now.
4. Pulido plays in at least 28 games. Alan Pulido played just over half of Kansas City’s available league minutes in 2020, scoring six goals and adding five assists in 962 minutes, when he was on the field, he was a difference maker and appeared worth every penny that Sporting spent to bring him in. Unfortunately, his time in 2020 was limited due to injury and quarantine after international duty. Assuming the league plays a 34-game season again in 2021, having Pulido available for over 80% of those games at his 2020 output would be 15 goals and 13 assists for Pulido, which would be in the running for MVP. Not saying Pulido would be able to keep up his .56 goals per 90 minutes that he was on in 2020, but he’d give Sporting a continued scoring threat in 2021.
5. Busio is sold for mid-seven figure deal. Teams are circling around the homegrown player, there have been numerous rumors over the years, clubs all over Italy like Juventus and Fiorentina and most recently Barcelona. Busio has a contract with Sporting picking up Busio’s 2021 option and have another in 2022, so the club has a year and a half really to attempt to sell the midfielder because starting in July of 2022 he’ll be able to sign a pre-contract with any club he wishes. While retaining Busio’s MLS rights does have a certain level of appeal, similar to the situation with Erik Palmer-Brown, the next step for Sporting’s Academy is to start selling some of these homegrown players to clubs abroad. Look at what FC Dallas and Philadelphia Union have done over the last few windows, taking their best academy players, helping them move to Europe and getting allocation money that can be used to improve the squad for the next season. As a homegrown player, Sporting would get to retain all the money from a transfer of Busio. The cancelation of the 2021 U20 World Cup hurts a little bit for Busio as he was expected to be a part of that tournament for the USA. Even with it canceled though this winter and this summer are likely going to be the best transfer windows to get the best deal for Busio. Busio has said he feels he owes Sporting to a point for helping with his development which is good to hear in terms of loyalty and looking for a deal that is not only good for him but good for the club as well, but it’s not time to try to find that deal that works for all parties involved.
6. Sporting continue to transition the roster. The departure of Matt Besler stings for many fans, but at the same time was a necessary move for the club as it continues to move forward. The club has worked to get younger over the last few years and Besler’s departure is the start of what will be a new time for the club. Graham Zusi’s contract expires at the end of the 2021 season and while Jaylin Lindsey struggled at times in 2020, he seems like he can be a consistent contributor at the right back filling in for Zusi after he went down. Zusi is the only player now left on the squad from the Kansas City Wizards days, though Roger Espinoza also played with the Wizards, but left for Wigan Athletic and returned. Espinoza is the other piece though, he’s a free agent in MLS, but the club was reportedly negotiating with him to return for 2021. Hopefully the club can respect these two players’ contributions to the club while also starting to move forward toward a future where neither player will be with the club anymore.
7. A playoff run for NWSL-KC. Women’s professional soccer is returning to Kansas City in 2021 with the Utah Royals franchise moving back to Kansas City, the city they left as FC Kansas City. The team currently does not have an official name yet or an official home location (though reports are they’ll play at T-Bones Stadium). The Royals spent three years in Utah and didn’t qualify for the playoffs in 2018 or 2019. In 2020 the team finished fifth in the NWSL Challenge Cup, but lost to eventual winners, the Houston Dash, on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. While there are a handful of players still on the team from when they were last in KC, there are just two from the last time Kansas City/Utah made the playoffs in 2015. The club is in need of a roster makeover to compete in the NWSL in 2021. Hopefully the new owners along with coach Huw Williams can bring in some talent to get them back to the playoffs to make a run this coming year. Unfortunately, they’ll have to do some of that building without a first-round draft pick in this year’s draft due to trades the Royals made. KC does have three straight picks in the second round, 15th, 16th, and 17th picks.
I’ll add a wish about a decent attendance number in 2021, but with the uncertainty of fan attendance in 2021 I’ll leave that wish alone for right now.
8. Sporting KC II continue to get younger players time with further success on the field. Sporting KC II didn’t make the playoffs in 2020, they finished fourth out of four teams in Group E of the USL Championship’s 2020 season with a 5-10-1 record. They did it with just two home games in their 16 games season, one of those home games taking place before lock down. We also saw some of the club’s younger players really start to step up in 2020 with the likes of Kaveh Rad and Jake Davis being regular starters in the SKCII team and Wilson Harris continuing his good run of form in 2019 to the point that he earned himself a first team contract. Hopefully KC can continue to get players like Rad and Davis continued playing time along with academy players like Nati Clarke and Osvaldo Cisneros, who were highlighted in the Audi Academy series, to help them be ready to make the step to the first team. At the same time have veteran players who can help lead the academy team and allow them to be competitive in the USL Championship. With the new MLS reserve/U-23 league coming, I’ve maintained having Sporting’s second team in an environment that is more “cutthroat” against players who are older, fighting for their job is a better spot for the team than a glorified reserve league.
9. Comets and MASL have a safe season, Comets make playoffs. The MASL season kicks off this weekend, along with the Comets first game in Dallas on the second. Personally, I won’t be attending games given the current world situation, but given that situation, I hope the Comets’ team can stay safe and the MASL can keep their teams safe and have a successful season. The Comets 2019-2020 season ended early and with the Comets eliminated from the playoff race before COVID shut down the season, but hopefully in 2021 they can make a return to the playoffs. With the club returning players like Kevin Ellis and John Sosa to the team along with newcomers like Kyle McLagan, there is certainly enough talent on the team to make a run. The uniqueness of the season though will definitely play a role.
10. US men have successful start to World Cup qualifying. It’s going to be a busy 2021 for the US men’s national team with the Gold Cup, Olympics, and the start of 2022 World Cup qualifying. For the US team qualifying will start in September with three games, before three more in October and two more in November. Over half of the USA’s 14 games in World Cup qualifying in this cycle will be done before 2021 comes to an end, including the first US vs Mexico game in November of this year. Having missed the 2018 World Cup and hosting the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada qualifying for 2022 is imperative for the US. With the talent on the team right now and how many quality, young players are playing significant roles in Europe, it shouldn’t be a question of whether the US qualify or not, but given how 2018 qualifying went, nothing is guaranteed.
11. US men qualify for the 2021 Olympics. A hold over from my 2020 wishes since the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo were postponed due to the pandemic. The US hasn’t qualified for the Olympic tournament since the 2008 games in Beijing. There is plenty of talent in the US U23 pool at this point, including those who are technically U24 but have been given a grace period due to the games being postponed. Qualification needs to happen for the US as the US tries to emerge from the “lost generations” that should be leading the US team at this point.
12. US women win gold at the Olympics. Another 2020 wish holdover due to the cancelation of the Olympics in Tokyo. Hopefully Vlatko Andonovski can bring home a gold medal for the US after a disappointing 2016 Olympics that saw the US women not even medal, getting eliminated in the quarterfinals by Sweden on penalty kicks.