On July 19, 2021, Felipe Hernandez was listed on the unavailability for a match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Hernandez was listed as unavailable due to “personal reasons”. As the season wore on, Felipe’s continued unavailability combined with Peter Vermes’ tight lipped answers, led to rampant speculation among the Sporting Kansas City fanbase about the cause of Hernandez’s absence.
On October 8, 2021, Major League Soccer and Sporting Kansas City announced that Felipe Hernandez had been suspended for the duration of the season for gambling on MLS matches. The league disclosed that their investigation began in July when Hernandez approached Sporting Kansas City in fear for his safety due to his gambling debts.
Hernandez cooperated fully in the league’s investigation and was considered to be eligible for reinstatement on January 1, 2022 upon application to the Commissioner, Don Garber. Today, that application was approved and Felipe Hernandez was reinstated by MLS. Hernandez’s reinstatement is contingent on certain ongoing conditions, including abstinence from gambling.
Before we go in to what this means for Sporting Kansas City’s roster in 2022, I think it is important to note a few important findings from the league’s investigation. First, Hernandez gambled extensively on sports as a professional soccer player in violating of the league’s rules. This includes two bets on MLS matches. However, Sporting Kansas City was not playing in either of those matches. Additionally, no evidence was found that Hernandez had any confidential or non-public information about those two matches that would have provided him an advantage in betting on the games. Also important is that no evidence was found that the sporting integrity of any MLS matches were compromised due to Hernandez’s betting.
While Hernandez’s gambling violates the league’s code of conduct and represents a serious professional conflict, it also represents a serious personal issue. Hernandez felt his safety was compromised due to his gambling addiction and needed to seek out help from law enforcement, MLS, and Sporting Kansas City. Sporting Kansas City immediately sent him to a treatment clinic and have continued to work with him on mental health aftercare to help fight his gambling addiction.
Addiction to gambling, like any other addiction, can be a lifelong struggle for people. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that two million Americans meet the criteria for pathological gambling and another six million are considered problem gamblers.
Previously, Sporting Kansas City legend, Jimmy Nielsen, fought through a gambling addiction that saw him win over $500,000 one evening and lose $350,000 the next before moving to Kansas City and getting control over his addiction. Despite being on the coaching staff for rival, Houston Dynamo FC, it isn’t too hard to speculate that Nielsen is a resource available to Felipe in his recovery. I mention all of this because I would like to encourage the Sporting Kansas City faithful, from the Cauldron to the South Stands and everyone in between, to give Felipe some grace and continue to provide a safe environment for his recovery.
How does this impact Sporting Kansas City in 2022?
What does Felipe’s return mean for Sporting Kansas City on the pitch? Hernandez is one of the first SKC homegrowns to really travel through the “pro pathway”. While previous homegrown players were signed directly to the first team without a stint at
Swope Park Rangers Sporting Kansas City II, Felipe rose through the Academy after joining in 2014 and into a starting spot with the second team in 2017. In August 2019, he earned a homegrown contract with Sporting Kansas City and made two appearances that year. In 2020, Hernandez made 16 appearances with 8 starts for SKC and earned just under 800 minutes. He followed a promising 2020 with six appearance and four starts for SKC in 2021 before being suspended in July.
In the 400 minutes Hernandez played in 2021, he scored a goal and earned two assists. His pass completion percentage was just under 87 percent. Perhaps more importantly, Felipe won 13 tackles in six games. Two in the defensive third, seven in the middle third, and four in the attacking third of the field. Simply put, he was forcing turnovers in areas that helped Sporting Kansas City immediately move into the attack. He had a 71.4% tackle percentage, meaning that he successfully tackled 71.4% of the players who attempted to dribble him. Now, sample size has a big role to play in these numbers, but these numbers represent a massive improvement over his prior two years with the first team and are more reflective of his time at SPR/SKC II as a hard nosed midfielder.
Upon signing his homegrown contract with Sporting Kansas City, Felipe was valued by Transfermarkt at $330,000. At the time of his suspension, Transfermarkt valued Felipe at $770,000. That number has taken a slight dip due to the suspension, but it reflects on how much Hernandez improved during his time with the first team.
Every player who dons the kit has to earn minutes in Peter Vermes’ lineup. We’ve seen club legends lose playing time for a bad run of form (See: Feilhaber, Benny) and we’ve seen hard-working players who train at a high rate every day eat up minutes to the chagrin of the fanbase (see: Peterson, Jacob AKA the Answer; see also: Shelton, Khiry). Felipe Hernandez won’t be gifted a spot in the starting XI or even the gameday 18. He’ll have to work to earn the coaching staff’s trust and earn his spot back in the gameday roster. But if Hernandez can recapture the level that he was playing at prior to his suspension, the Sporting Kansas City midfield just got a big boost of depth.
The National Problem Gambling Helpline is run by the National Council on Problem Gambling. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, reach out to them at 1-800-522-4700. Additional resources can be found at