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Debating the Sporting KC Depth Chart — Where do things Stand?

It’s been two months since Sporting Kansas City’s last game on the calendar and there has been little movement from the club on transactions. Nathan and Chad debate who is in the lead at each spot.

Portland Timbers v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Fernando Leon/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Since the start of the 2022-23 offseason, Sporting KC have only signed one new player, Nemanja Radoja. The club also re-signed longtime veterans Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza to one-year extensions with an option for 2024 and a two-year deal for Andreu Fontas. Rosters are allowed to have 30 players on the team and Sporting KC currently has 26 players signed for 2023.

All eight international spots are occupied, and the team currently has two of its three Designated Players slots filled. Vermes says that Sporting Kansas City are able to sign another Designated Player (DP) this season with the ability to buy Gadi Kinda down to a TAM contract (there’s a whole break down on that ordeal). Plus, the team technically can add more international or U-22 players with some funky MLS math.

This isn’t the full squad for the season

This is MLS and anything can happen. Especially in the offseason, where Sporting can make weird moves (Ike Opera...) or a top-quality player can fall into your lap (Felipe Gutierrez). There are still four more players the club can sign. Currently, Sporting has three goalkeepers; seven defenders; nine midfielders; and seven forwards.

Kansas City definitely need to sign a center back and a rumor came out this past week that the club is interested in Matt Hedges who is a free agent from FC Dallas. Their interested is joined by four other MLS teams (that we know of). The team also chose Isimat-Mirin in the second round of the waivers draft, though it seems unlikely he’ll re-sign. Peter Vermes has also talked about adding a third striker to the team too.

Debating the Depth Chart

Which brings us to the depth chart. Admittedly, it’s likely way too early in the offseason to decide who is starting at each job. Players like Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda are still rehabbing from their surgeries that cost them the 2022 season. Plus, the newest signing, Radoja, hasn’t even had a practice with the team.

At the same time, preseason will likely start pretty early on with a congested schedule. So, let’s get a head start on things. For this story, we’ll both submit a depth chart and then do a little debate about the more contentious spots knowing full well there is lots to be decided.

Nathan’s Depth Chart:

Chad’s Depth Chart:

The Spots that are Clear

There is no point in debating every position on the roster. As you can see by our layouts above, there is a fair amount of agreement. For that reason, we’ll skip over Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell, Erik Thommy and Andreu Fontas, who we seem aligned on.

And even though we align in some other spots, let’s talk through them so we can at least justify ourselves!

Center Forward

Willy Agada or Alan Pulido?

Chad Smith (CS): When I first laid eyes on Nathan’s depth chart with Agada ahead of Pulido, I wasn’t certain. To me, Alan Pulido looked like he was healthy enough to play before 2022 was over, but the team didn’t want to rush him back out there. I imagine it’ll be a heated competition in preseason to lay claim to this role. But as you will see by some of my other picks, I’m leaning towards some veterans. That being said, Agada played amazing down the stretch and if Pulido isn’t ready to go, I’m very happy to have two great options. There is just something about how Pulido plays that if he’s healthy, he probably gets the nod.

Nathan Jowers (NJ): Looking at Chad’s chart and his reasonings behind Pulido over Agada makes sense, but it’s hard to imagine Pulido will be starting right away. His hold up play is better than Agada and his passing is superb in dangerous areas and on counter attacks, but Agada showed Kansas City that he is also dangerous in front of goal and not afraid to take his shots. The concern for me and everyone really is that will Pulido be healthy? Can he still be a game changer? No one will know till the season comes and we know Agada can be that guy.

The Midfield Triangle

Is Walter an 8 or a 6?

CS: The real debate right now in my eyes is around two topics. Will Nemanja Radoja be the starting defensive midfielder and will Gadi Kinda be ready on day one? I just have this feeling Kinda won’t be ready right away, which solves the problem because Walter can start next to Thommy and hopefully Radoja is the answer at d-mid.

Longer-term, I’m not sure how it works with Thommy and Kinda. Can they both consistently be on the field together? Is there enough defensive work rate or is that too much offense? I see Walter kind of pinging back and forth from the 8 to the 6 as needed. He did appear in every game in 2022.

NJ: Kinda will be back full of energy my mind always goes back to Kinda’s very first game with KC and was all over the field. He’s older now yes, but he seems to be getting sharper with the rehab he has done. If he isn’t ready to go then I agree with Chad with Walter in the no. 8 role. I don’t think Radoja will be ready to start immediately and Walter, towards the end of the season was playing really well in the 6 role and I believe that he will start there early on until Radoja is fit and ready to start.


Veterans or “kids?”

CS: What I want and what I think will happen are two different things. I’m definitely pushing for “the kids” to take the starting spots. But at the end of the season Ben Sweat had taken the starting job from Logan Ndenbe. It’s possible this was aided by an injury Ndenbe was overcoming but Sweat played well down the stretch. By default, Kayden Pierre was starting on the right due to Zusi’s injury but I’m sure Graham will push hard to get his starting spot back. Let’s just hope the younger guys outplay their veteran counterparts because that’s good for the team in the long and short term.

NJ: Ndebe is a good player, and that injury did cause him to lose the starting job with Sweat but Sweat brought his game up to a new level and his passing was so much better and honestly, I don’t think Ndebe’s crosses and passing was all that good. I also thought Pierre was great stepping up when Zusi was out and he made some mistakes here and there, but he kept his composure most of the time and did really well going forward and staying back and tracking back after an attack. We will see Zusi a lot this season just not at the start of some games.


Does Tim take his job back?

NJ: I have Pulskamp starting because he made so many big time saves to keep Sporting in the lead or in a big game. He just needs to grow some confidence on when to come off his line and on penalties. Melia is undoubtably a legend, but he showed too much of age over the course of games he played in 2022. If Melia gets the start, then that’s okay I just wish for Vermes to give the younger players the chance they deserve and for the older guys to help with the young players.

CS: Much like my takes in other spots, I’m leaning towards veterans starting because that’s typically how Vermes plays it. Now, is it because they are outplaying their younger counterparts or just some sort of inherent bias? Hard to say. Pulskamp was shaky when he first took the job because of Melia’s injuries, but he really made the position his own by the end of the year. Across the board I’m hoping all this added depth from younger guys playing more due to injuries and schedule congestion leads to good competition and makes everyone better. No one’s job is safe, there is someone at every spot grinding.

What are your thoughts on the team so far? Does the team seem ready for 2023 yet? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!