Defensively Sporting Kansas City were a big, heaping pile of a mess in 2022. Yeah they showed improvements in the last eight games of the regular season. Allowing only six(!!) goals in the last eight was a huge improvement.
Andreu Fontas and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin were the main two that Vermes clearly wanted to start all season, but injuries and suspensions happened to both the guys early on at the start of the season, but they were the starting pair through most of the regular season. Fontas is out of contract now and the team has the option to decline Isimat-Mirin’s contract. Vermes will most likely keep one around just because he is big on leadership and having a sort of consistency.
Let’s analyze which one makes sense.
Our fourth highest paid player on the team (per the MLSPA salary release) could still have a case on staying on the team for 2023. It’s widely believed that Fontas was a potential replacement for Matt Besler but his arrival and salary helped push Ike Opara out the door when he cam in the summer of 2018. Early on for his first two seasons he dealt with a lot of injury problems and would play as our right center back; where naturally you prefer a right footed player to be there and Besler stayed on the left. He struggled a lot when he first played, dealing with multiple injuries, but he finally did find his footing in 2021.
In 2021 he was a finalist in the MLS Defender of the Year voting after having a very successful year in the backline that led Sporting to a 3rd place finish in the West. He dropped off that defender of the year form around September, but was still good! As for 2022 well… he was very underwhelming to say the least. Granted not every goal Sporting gave up was on Fontas. I thought towards the end of the season he was actually in decent/good from mid-August to the end of the season.
Cons if SKC keep him
First off, he’s aging. We saw what father time had done to Tim Melia and it’s a matter of who he picks off next. He’s going to be 33 at the start of the season and Fontas isn’t the most athletic guy on the field, but it’s his awareness on where to go and make a step, even if he misjudges the timing from time to time. The issue is going to fall on Fontas whether he can stay fit and take care of himself.
The other thing is that he has been on the field 61 times in the last two seasons. Which is a good thing, but we’re gonna compare the seasons. In 2021, Sporting had given up 40 goals. This year he played 28 games due to injury and suspension. The team gave up 54 goals, which isn’t ideal. Especially to Vermes, who bases the team off the defense and being able to play out of the back.
This is almost the same backline that took the team to playoffs last season with only change really coming from the left back role. There’s no doubt Vermes is trying to find a solution to cover both center backs and I think we already have a player that will get more time next year in Kortne Ford, if the club decides they pick up his option year (DO IT PETER).
Pros to Keeping Fontas
He is probably the best center back on the team and the most experienced, which really does play a factor with Vermes. Yeah, he didn’t have the greatest of seasons and didn’t live up to his 2021 season, but he would be the one who most of the time would deal with any ball coming into the box or coming his way. Now the numbers say that Fontas and Isi were relatively close in Duels won with Fontas at 58% and Isi at 58% and completed tackles 58% and 69%. Fontas was the one who wouldn’t be caught ball watching though and would at least attempt to challenge the defenders on headers.
Isi is the fifth highest paid player on the team. As much as Sporting KC was paying him he was injured a lot of the time in the two seasons he was in MLS. Isimat-Mirin is KC’s more physical defender on the team and has the athleticism to be a good defender in the league. When he was playing in 2021 he was actually decent! He would go for the balls that should’ve been won and it happened most of the time. Problem is that 2022 came along. Time to dig in.
Cons to Isi Returning
In 2022 he was very mediocre to say the least. He picked up his form towards the end of the season, but we can’t ignore all the mistakes that he made this season. He would be caught ball watching when a team would whip in a cross and score with Isi not challenging anyone for the ball (watch the RSL game back in July, you’ll see what I’m saying.) He’s also somewhat injury prone. In 2021 he missed 21 games with multiple injuries. In 2022 he played 28 games and only missed the five other games from a broken cheekbone against Columbus in May. He returned against the Houston Dynamo in the US Open Cup and played pretty much every game until the end of the season.
Pros to Bringing Isi Back
He’s definitely the most athletic out of the starting caliber center backs on the team (I do expect Ford to make a push if Vermes brings him back). He can be a threat in the air when he goes for the ball he has 63% aerial duels won, which is a lot more than Fontas. Isi has the most clearances on the team with 102 and has the most successful tackles on the roster.
Fontas and Isi were both really poor this year and they aren’t getting younger by any means. Most fans would say that they would be fine with both players leaving, but with Vermes he’s definitely going to choose one to stay. He’s big on keeping players with leadership and performing on the pitch. Fontas seems the more likely to stay and that’s who I’ll predict Vermes will take. It won’t surprise me though if he does decide to move on from both.