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12 Observations from Sporting KC versus Phoenix Rising + A Highlight Video

And to be clear, we are observing tweets, lineups and post game press conferences because no one was in the stadium. Though we’ve got a two minute highlight package!

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Sporting Kansas City Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City have finally returned to action in 2021 after a long winter and they started off with a bang. They beat the USL Championship’s defending Western Conference Champions (there was no USL Cup in 2020 due to COVID), Phoenix Rising FC, by a scoreline of 4-0.

Let’s get to some observations!

Wilson Harris Knows How to Score

Three of the team’s four goals came by way of new Homegrown signing, Wilson Harris. Harris featured for Sporting KC II over the last few seasons and was signed by the first team late in the 2020 season. He managed to get his hat trick by the 33rd minute!

Sure, the goals came against a USL team, which he’s proven he knows how to score in the USL. However, he did it with what I wouldn’t call the “optimal” lineup around him, as several likely starters weren’t on the field.

Phoenix is often known for their offense, so getting goals on them means maybe just the tiniest bit less, but it’s still something. And they were playing what appears to be primarily their starters.

A Shut Out is a Shut Out

Sure, it’s against a USL team, but it’s against one of the highest scoring USL teams in league history. Phoenix always bags tons of goals, but they couldn’t find the back of the net against Sporting KC. And that’s with plenty of USL (and some Academy) guys in the lineups. That’s something and Peter Vermes was pleased.

It should be said, in the second half, Phoenix put on a bunch of trialists, filling about half their lineup (including, according to the team, some of their Academy players).

Academy Goals All Around

The fourth and final goal was also scored by a former member of the SKC Academy — Gianluca Busio. Four goals, all by academy players. Plus, former academy player and current SKC II midfield destroyer, Jake Davis had one of the three assists (Johnny Russell had the other two).

That’s a very good day for the “kids,” especially as Sporting appear to be moving towards a more balanced lineup of youth and experience like other teams in the league like the Philadelphia Union, FC Dallas and New York Red Bulls.

The Lineups

Sporting KC put out three different lineups over the course of three, 30-minute segments. This is pretty standard fare for them in the first preseason game. I fully expect the next game could be two 45-minute halves per lineup and they’ll build towards 90 minutes of fitness.

Looking at the lineups, they are probably in a 4-3-3, but it’s just a guess since, again, no one was actually at the game but the teams (no media, no fans). Here is likely how the formation broke down:





RW - CF - LW

First 30:

Tim Melia

Jaylin Lindsey, Kaveh Rad, Andreu Fontas, Luis Martins

Ilie Sanchez

Gianluca Busio, Gadi Kinda

Johnny Russell, Wilson Harris, Daniel Salloi

Second 30:

Kendall McIntosh

Kayden Pierre, Roberto Puncec, Graham Smith, Amadou Dia

Felipe Hernandez

Jake Davis, Cam Duke

Grayson Barber, Wilson Harris (Dominik Resetar 46’), Khiry Shelton

Third 30:

John Pulskamp

Kayden Pierre, Matt Constant, Danny Barbir, Travian Sousa

Felipe Hernandez

Jake Davis, Cam Duke

Ozzie Cisneros, Dominik Resetar, Tyler Freeman

No Pulido, Because He was Injured

Alan Pulido was noticeably absent from the lineup for the first preseason game. According to coach Peter Vermes, he had a “knock.” He expects him (and others) back in training on Monday. In the past, knocks could mean tiny little injuries or an undiscovered larger issue. Let’s hope it’s the former and not the latter.

Just this past week, PV detailed the way Pulido picked up his freak injury last season. There is no indication at this point it’s serious, but we all should probably cross our fingers.

Other Absences: Walter, Isimat-Mirin, Espinoza, Zusi

While none of them were asked about specifically, we can probably lump Remi Walter and Roger Espinoza into the “knock” category as they could definitely be seen in video at practice earlier on in preseason. As for new center back signing Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, it’s likely he hasn’t made it into the country yet but if he has that he’s in quarantine.

As for Graham Zusi, we know he’s not going to be available by the start of the regular season, so that accounts for his absence. The only other missing player that I noticed was new Homegrown goalkeeper Brooks Thompson, as he didn’t travel to Arizona as he’s been dealing with an injury.

What Should We Read Into the Lineups?

It’s hard not to make too much of the lineups, but it seems very clear they mean basically nothing. The “first” lineup has an SKC II player starting at CB (Kaveh Rad). However, there are a few things I think we can still ‘observe’ without overanalyzing too much.

  • Felipe Hernandez was the backup at the #6 spot for Ilie Sanchez. He played there ever so briefly in 2020 but mostly he’s a #8. It could be that Walter would have played there if healthy (or Busio if he wasn’t needed further up in the midfield), but it could be they are trying something new for him. He appears quicker and more athletic than Ilie, so it’ll be interesting to see if that experiment continues.
  • Cisneros and Barber played on the right wing. They are both looked at as players who can play attacking midfielder or multiple forward spots, but since Sporting don’t exactly have a true attacking midfielder, it was always possible they’d end up on the wing. Don’t rule them out for midfield minutes, but it’ll be something else to watch.
  • Matt Constant was the only player with the team that isn’t under contract with the first or second team, or a member of the SKC Academy. The CB was drafted 50th overall (third round) in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft. It’ll be interesting to see if he catches on as the 5th CB or, more likely, ends up signed to SKC II.
  • Busio played in the midfield with Kinda. I’ve personally speculated that Busio could be playing on the LW or at defensive midfielder, but instead he played in one of the dual #8 spots. Obviously Espinoza and Walter didn’t play, so that could be the reason, but it’s another item to keep an eye on.
  • That third lineup, could legit be an SKC II lineup. There are several first team guys playing (Freeman, Cisneros, Duke, Pulskamp), but they are all good candidates for second team loans. Only Felipe Hernandez doesn’t seem likely to spend any time with SKC II.

Hernandez Playing with Bite

To be fair, we just have one tweet to go by for this. Felipe Hernandez was given a second yellow and sent off with a red card in the 83rd minute. They could have been stupid fouls, but having watching numerous games he played with SPR/SKC II over the past few years, he often played with an aggressive edge. Obviously, you have to keep it under control and not get sent off, but I thought Hernandez lacked aggression at times with the first team in 2020. If he’s finding that again, I’m all about it.


After the game, Sporting KC put out a two minute highlight package and there were some slick moves in there (the slo-mo didn’t hurt). I’ll let you make your own observations from those two minutes.

And for you Phoenix Rising fans, here is a shot of the new complex:

Finally, we’ll leave you with some post-game quotes from PV.