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A Look at Sporting KC’s Depth Chart at the End of 2021

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The roster build is still a work in progress, but we have a pretty good idea how this team will look for 2022 with a few notable questions.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Sporting Kansas City Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City’s 2021 season came to an unceremonious close one month ago today. They were bounced from the playoffs by Real Salt Lake and the reshuffling of the roster started almost immediately. Hard cuts were made. Jaylin Lindsey was traded. And a few signings were made (plus another player may join after being “drafted”).

There are still a handful of roster building decisions to be made and it’s entirely possible that players currently on the roster could soon be gone via trade or transfer, though that feels a bit unlikely. Then again, who had the team trading Lindsey?

As the roster stands today, there are 22 players signed for the 2022 season. Six of eight international slots are filled (remember green cards need to be in before the start of the season starting in 2022). All three Designated Player spots are full (though there may be wiggle room). Plus SKC have used exactly zero of their up to three (but as few as one) U-22 Initiative spots.

So let’s take a look at where each player on the roster fits in which will naturally lead to what holes are remaining to be filled.

Forwards

Center Forward

Starter: Alan Pulido

Depth: (Robert Beric?), Khiry Shelton, Gadi Kinda

Unless something stunning happens, this is Alan Pulido’s job. He’s still the most expensive signing in SKC history and he needs to start staying healthy to prove his worth (because he’s damn good when he’s fit). Behind him is likely to be Shelton and Kinda, who both played the center forward role at times. Shelton is more of a physical player while Kinda played a false 9, which is actually similar to how Pulido plays the role.

The wildcard is Beric who was recently acquired via the Re-Entry Process Stage 2 from the Chicago Fire. He’s a true 9 but it’s far from certain he’ll actually sign a contract, hence the question mark. I explain that more over here.

Left Wing

Starter: Daniel Salloi

Depth: Shelton, Tyler Freeman (sort of)

Going into 2021 this was probably the position with the most question marks around it. Basically everyone wanted the team to sign another left wing because Salloi hadn’t proven he should have those minutes. Salloi proved everyone wrong (and a few people right) that he absolutely had it and had an MVP caliber season. He’s only signed through the end of 2022, so he needs to be locked up or the future needs to be acquired. (Robert and I both made the case that attacking depth is a place this team needs to spend their money.)

Behind him is likely to be Shelton, who is the primary depth at all three forward spots. If Beric is actually signed, Shelton can focus on his wing play. Freeman is next up, but he’s actually on loan in Germany until the middle of 2022, though he can be recalled at any time.

Right Wing

Starter: Johnny Russell

Depth: Shelton, Grayson Barber

The captain just re-signed through 2023 with a team option for 2024. At times the team has experimented with Shelton playing this role but it always (rightfully) comes back to Russell. He has ‘lost’ the job at times due to coming in to preseason late (for the birth of his child) or injuries, but this is Johnny Russell’s job.

Shelton is the first off the bench here too, followed by Barber who has the most minutes (though still few) of the young Homegrowns who play forward. There is always the possibility that players like Cam Duke or Kinda can play on either wing as well, but they are best used elsewhere.

Midfielders

Dual #8s

Starters: Gadi Kinda, Remi Walter

Depth: Felipe Hernandez (?), Cam Duke, Jacob Davis, Ozzie Cisneros

First, as if you haven’t heard, SKC don’t play with a traditional number 10 in the midfield, but instead two dual number 8s. So I’ll list the players that way.

Gadi Kinda is one of the team’s three DPs and is a penciled in starter. Walter began to take over that role next to Kinda from Roger Espinoza (who is still currently unsigned) as the 2021 season wore on. I expect them to start together, barring a big signing or Espinoza returning and knocking someone’s socks off (though he should be no more than depth if he re-signs).

The first line of players behind them are Duke and Hernandez. Duke being the more creative player, like Kinda, and Hernandez the more hard-nosed guy (though he has that spark of creativity too). Hernandez gets a question mark because of his suspension in 2021. If he isn’t reinstated, the team is really young with Davis and Cisneros the next two guys up. I expect them to climb from the combined one minute they played in MLS games in 2021, but huge contributions are likely further down the line as they should feature for SKC II for much of the year.

I didn’t list them, but the two d-mids could play here too, as Mauri did briefly in 2021.

Defensive Midfielder

Starter: Jose Mauri

Depth: Uri Rosell

This is probably the first position I’m a little unsure on. With Ilie Sanchez not having his contract option picked up, the team must have some faith that Mauri will take that next step in 2022 (it does take time to integrate into a team). However, the addition of Rosell likely means this job is open for competition. The two players are likely to be paid relatively similar salaries (not that pay should play a part in who starts, just expectations on who should start). I expect Mauri is the front runner now, but don’t rule out Uri, who helped solidify the midfield of the 2013 MLS Cup winning Sporting KC side when he was very young. It’ll be interesting to see how much his game has evolved and how he fits into a very different SKC team.

Defenders

Left Back

Starter: Ben Sweat

Backup: ???

By default, Ben Sweat is the guy. There are no other left backs on the roster following contract options being declined for Luis Martins and Amadou Dia. What is unclear is if Sweat is looked at as depth or to be the starter. Whoever is added to the roster next in this position will be a good indicator of this. If it’s a known quantity (or even an international we don’t know), it would seem Sweat could be depth that fights for first team minutes. If it’s SKC II left back, Isaiah LeFlore (or another Homegrown), for example, then it would seem it’s Sweat’s job to lose.

Center Backs

Starters: Andreu Fontas, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin

Depth: Kaveh Rad, Rosell (?), ???

There is no doubt in my mind the two guys making north of $1 million each are going to start again. Hopefully Isi remains healthy in 2022. Fontas had a great year but Vermes seemed to think Isimat-Mirin would have been up for defender of the year if he had remained healthy. That’s a solid core to the defense.

Behind them is clearly Kaveh Rad, who got a few minutes in 2021. Then there are no other CBs on the roster, though I was told (as I don’t recall personally) that when Rosell was initially signed in 2012, folks thought he was coming to be a CB. So that means he could actually be above Rad on the depth chart with all his experience and could play the Ilie role in 2022 as a ball-playing CB. Beyond that, there is no one on the roster. So one, and possibly two, additions need to be made.

Right Back

Starter: ???

Depth: Kayden Pierre, Duke (?)

There is just one right back on the roster in soon-to-be 19-year-old Pierre. Don’t take it as a slight that I don’t have him as the starter because I’m high on him, but he has zero MLS minutes and was third on the depth chart (arguably fourth behind Duke who played one game there) in 2021.

The team clearly needs to sign a right back. Now if that’s a returning Graham Zusi or someone else, they are the likely starter unless Pierre takes another huge leap forward in preseason. Other teams start their young homegrowns (particularly at fullback), but PV hasn’t shown a tendency to do the same outside of someone like Gianluca Busio. At the least, I hope Pierre is a rotational guy this year as he increased his quality of play dramatically in his one season as a USL Championship starter on Sporting KC II. I’m not so sure the team will carry three five fullbacks again, as I could see a CB who can swing out to FB or vice versa being a better move from a depth perspective.

Goalkeeper

Starter: Tim Melia

Depth: John Pulskamp, Kendall McIntosh

Despite being 35 (36 in May), Melia is the unquestioned starter. Goalkeepers can keep going even at an “advanced age” (for sports). The next guy up, as proven by getting the starts when Melia was injured or suspended, is Homegrown (via the LA Galaxy) Pulskamp, followed by McIntosh.

This position is an area of strength and McIntosh should be proud he stuck around more than a year. Outside of ‘youth’ players like Pulskamp, Adrian Zendejas and Eric Dick, no keeper has done that in recent years beyond the starter. You have to go back to Eric Kronberg in 2013 and 2014 to find a “veteran” backup who stuck around for more than a year (and arguably he was a starter for a bit).


So there are clearly some positions of need, but it seems the starters are mostly set outside of signings that come in and push those guys and at outside back. I wouldn’t expect to hear much before the new year as I imagine Vermes is taking his forced vacation right about now (though still working, of course). However, The Blue Testament will keep bringing you stories throughout the week to wrap up 2021 and set the stage for 2022. Look for an update on the teams current contracts, a recap of wishes met and not met from 2021 and what to wish for in 2022.