Since the 2021, Sporting KC season ended about six weeks ago, I’ve been going back through my stats on the season, working to update again for the 2022 season that starts in a little under two months in Atlanta. While doing that, a few things stuck out to me as I looked back on the 2021, one of which was Sporting’s age in 2021.
Over the course of the season, KC had three players turn thirty-five at some point during the year (Tim Melia, Graham Zusi, and Roger Espinoza). With that thought in mind I began to wonder how the average age of the Sporting roster matched up with other years in Kansas City’s history. That thought was emboldened by one of the end of the season pieces on Kansas City where Matt Doyle couldn’t pick five players under thirty for his “Five Players to Build Upon” section. So, I took a dive into the numbers again and started looking at the average age of players that have played in games for Kansas City as well as those that have started a game for Kansas City.
First, some background. To figure out the average age for each player I took their age on the date of each game, so for example if a player played a game the day before their birthday 27th birthday they were classified as twenty-six in my numbers and the next game they played they’d be classified as twenty-seven. The other thing I want to make clear is that this is only for league play, I didn’t want to get further into the numbers for all competitions, including playoffs, US Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, etc., as I felt the circumstances could say the numbers either way depending on the competition. The playoffs teams may go a little older, banking on the experience, while they may go younger for the US Open Cup or Leagues Cup depending on how seriously the competition is taken and the regular season schedule around it. So, it was easier to solely focus on league play.
With that said, in 2021 Kansas City had 457 player appearances in league play, the average age for a KC player was 28.13 years old. KC had 374 starts in 2021 and the average age of a player starting a game for Kansas City was 28.68. I’m not going to break that down for the entire league as detailed as I did for KC, but based on stats on Transfermarkt, KC had the third oldest team in 2021 behind the Columbus Crew (28.5) and Minnesota United (28.3). When it came to starters, only Columbus had an older team, with an average age of 29.1.
The fact that KC didn’t have the oldest roster or team in 2021 was a surprise, though they did apparently field the oldest starting lineup in 2021 in their 2-1 win over Seattle in October. They were still one of the oldest teams in the league in 2021.
So, since this roster wasn’t the oldest team in MLS, I thought I’d go a different direction, one I had the means to research more, and that’s how the 2021 season average age for KC compared to the average age of the team through Kansas City’s history. Here’s a look at the average age of both the starting eleven and the average age of players that saw the field for KC each year of their existence.
Average starter age
Average Starter Age
As you can see in the chart, in the 2021 season, Kansas City had the second oldest average age for their starting lineup. The only year older was Kansas City’s 2019 season with an average age for the starters at 28.75. Add in the 2020 average age of 28.09 and KC has had a three year stretch where the club’s average age for a starter has been over the age of twenty-eight. In its history, KC has had seven years where the average age of a starter has been at or over the age of twenty-eight with two more years being extremely close to twenty-eight. One of those ones close would have made is a four year stretch of the average age being over twenty-eight.
It is especially interesting to look at the chart and see the recent history under Peter Vermes tending to lean towards the older side, while the four years with the youngest average age of a starter all coming earlier in Vermes’ tenure. While 2018 through 2021 are four of the eight oldest years, the 2011 through 2015 span are five of the youngest six years in average age of the club.
The other part that is interesting when it comes to the average age of the starters is when Kansas City has won trophies. The ten seasons when Kansas City has had their youngest average age of a starter, they’ve won four trophies (2004, 2012, 2013, 2015). While in the ten seasons that KC has had their oldest average age of a starter, KC has won zero trophies. The two years where KC has won their other three trophies (2000 and 2017) KC had their eleventh and fourteenth oldest lineups respectively. Obviously, correlation doesn’t equal causation, but it is interesting that the older teams KC has put out haven’t had success in bringing in trophies.
Average age of all players who appear
Average Age All Players
This table is for the average age of any player that appeared in a game during the regular season. Obviously, this number can be skewed by the fact that this chart compares a player who played one minute in a game equally to a player who played all 90 minutes in a game, which can’t be a fair comparison (don’t worry, more on that to come). But at the basic level of this data, Kansas City again had the second oldest average age here with an average age of 28.13, this time trailing the 1998 season at 28.24. The team barely finishing ahead of the 2019 season at 28.12. These were the only three seasons that finished with an average age 28 years old or older in KC history.
With this list there is certainly a bigger drop off to other years in the Vermes era. Even in the 2020 season the average age of a player is almost a half a year younger than the average age of a player this year.
This wasn’t an area that I wanted to focus too much on when I originally pulled the numbers because as I mentioned, it wasn’t totally fair to weight a player who played just one minute in a game equally to a player who played 90 minutes in a game. But what these initial numbers did give me was a starting point to dig deeper into specific numbers. Since the 2021, 2019, and 1998 seasons were all three the oldest on both lists I decided to look deeper into those three seasons and break those stats down further. Below is more of my research on each of those three seasons.
With the 1998, 2019, and 2021 seasons all being the three oldest on both lists I took those three seasons and decided to break them each down even further, looking at the minutes played by each player that season and take a look at the break down of the minutes played for each season. I did this for both all the minutes played, and I broke it down to just the starters as well.
The first thing I looked as was dividing the age of each player in those seasons into three categories, under 25, 25 to 29, and 30 plus. From there I divided the minutes played by players in each age range and got the percentage of minutes played in each age group.
Average ages by age group
|Under 25||5029||15.92%||Under 25||4622||15.28%||Under 25||4221||12.62%||Under 25||3597||11.43%||Under 25||5364||15.98%||Under 25||4699||14.74%|
The big thing that I noticed here was that 2021 was the only one of the three years where more minutes were played by players over the age of 30 than any other year. Just over forty-seven percent of the minutes played in 2021 were played by players over the age of thirty. Over forty-eight percent of minutes played by starters were played by players over the age of thirty. For the 1998 and 2019 seasons the highest percentage of minutes played was in the 25 to 29 range with the percentage being between just over forty-eight percent to just over forty-nine percent.
At the other end of the age groups, the 2021 season did have the most percentage of minutes played by players under the age of twenty-five, with 15.98% of the minutes in 2021 being played by players under that age. It barely finished in front of the 1998 season with had 15.92% of minutes played by players under the age of twenty-five. The 1998 season did have the highest percentage of minutes as a starter played by players under twenty-five, with still over fifteen percent of minutes.
The 2021 season meanwhile had 14.74% of minutes played as a starter by players under twenty-five. The 2019 season had by far the lowest percentage played by players under twenty-five with just 12.62% of minutes played, and just 11.43% of starter minutes taken by players under twenty-five. The 2019 season did have the youngest player to earn minutes of the three seasons with Gianluca Busio playing 923 minutes that year and 744 of those minutes as a starter.
At the same time noticing this, it led to some confusion on my part about why, with the 2021 season having so many minutes played by players over the age of thirty, how was it not the oldest team in Sporting history for the players played. So, what I did from there is I took each year and divided the minutes played by each of the players’ ages when they made the appearance.
1998 All Minutes
In the 1998 season the immediate thing that jumped out to me on both lists, especially when compared to the other two seasons I was looking at, was the almost complete lack of minutes played by teenagers for the club that season. The 32 minutes played by teenagers came in one appearance for Nino Da Silva as a substitute.
1998 starters minutes
At the other end of the range of ages for the club, KC got 10.87% of minutes played by players over the age of thirty-five in the 1998 season. Those minutes came from Mo Johnston and Preki (both turned thirty-five during the season, so their minutes are split between 34 and 35). In terms of starting minutes, those two combined for just over eleven percent of the minutes played by starters. Both were the third most for the 1998 season. The highest percentage in that season for both all minutes and just starters went to the 28-year-olds with the likes of Mark Chung and Paul Wright getting the majority of those minutes. The second highest percentage being 27 years old, which included the rest of Chung’s minutes in 1998 along with all of Mike Ammann’s minutes, is what helps to bring down the average age to the twenty-eight that it’s at overall.
Overall, though, the 1998 season had the team fairly well spread out with ten different ages between five percent and twelve percent both for overall minutes and for starters. When looking at 2019 for example, there will be a stark contrast.
2019 all minutes
2019 starters minutes
The big thing when looking at the 2019 season is the fact that almost fifty percent of the minutes played that year were played by players that were either 28 (Gerso Fernandes, Felipe Gutierrez, and Ilie Sanchez) or 32 (Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Seth Sinovic, and Graham Zusi). The 28-year-olds played 26.06% of all minutes and 26.22% of starters minutes while the 32-year-olds played 23.05% of all minutes and 24.01% of starters minutes. Those two combined with the 12.16% of minutes played by 27-year-olds (Botond Barath, Yohan Croizet, and Luis Martins) help to push the right around 28-29 years old. Unlike the 2019 season where you had ten different ages above five percent in 2019, there were only six above five percent among all minutes played, and only five among starters minutes.
As for this past season, 2021 didn’t have two ages really pulling away from each other, but looking at the ages, 2021 was certainly the oldest lineup in terms of minutes played. This season had three different ages play at least ten percent of the minutes, and four play ten percent of the starting minutes. Of those, in total minutes played, all three of them were 30 years or older. Thirty (Sanchez and Alan Pulido) had 11.7% of total minutes played while thirty-one (Johnny Russell, Andreu Fontas) were the highest for the season with 15.47%, then there was thirty-five (Tim Melia and Zusi) again near the top like in 1998 with 12% of the minutes played. In terms of starting minutes, 29 (Luis Martins, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin) also ended over ten percent for the season.
2021 all minutes
2021 starters minutes
Compared to the other two years, 2021 had nine different years over five percent. That’s three more in total minutes than 2019 and four more than 2019 had in starters minutes. It’s one fewer than 1998 had in either one of those areas though.
Viewing the numbers as a whole, while the average age of each player had the 2021 season as second among both total players and starters, when breaking down the number of minutes played, it wasn’t close. In terms of minutes played in 2021, Kansas City had the oldest lineup in club history. While Kansas City got some time from younger players in 2021 with the likes of Busio, Kaveh Rad, John Pulskamp, Jaylin Lindsey, and Cameron Duke all getting minutes, there was a distinct reliance on veterans in 2021.
As things are set up right now heading into 2021, the club has added two players to the roster (Ben Sweat, Oriol Rosell) and a third could be added after the club selected Robert Beric in the second stage of the Re-Entry Draft. Two of those three are already thirty while Rosell turns thirty in July. That’s not to say that thirty is too old for a new signing, or a player in general, but by the time players hit thirty they’re starting to wind down their playing career. Having a portion of the roster being over thirty is no issue, but when you have a majority of your minutes played by players over thirty there is a risk of players wearing out.
On the other side of things, the club parted ways with one player already over thirty in Sanchez and there are two more that are out of contract (Zusi and Espinoza) who are free agents and have not signed with KC, or any other club for that matter. The question that will likely affect how the age of the 2022 roster looks will depend on how KC continues their roster building as the club likely needs at least one more player everywhere along the back line.
This past season, despite a record number of Homegrown Players on the roster, the club still fielded arguably the oldest roster in the club’s history, and while it was certainly successful in relative terms, there is a concern. The thing that will need to be watched will be whether age starts to catch up with more of the roster going forward. This is especially true if Zusi and Espinoza are brought back. That would give KC three players on the roster who would turn 36 in 2022 (along with Melia). Combine that with both, presumed, starting center backs and two-thirds of the starting attack being over thirty, and the only left back on the roster currently being thirty, there is a need for younger players on the roster to begin to step up into larger roles to contribute. And if they’re not able to, Vermes needs to look to bring in younger players who can.