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Sporting Kansas City rounding into form despite preseason loss

Ndenbe, Rosell, and Salloi show much for first team.

Scotland v Belguim - UEFA Euro U21 - Qualifying - Group I - Tannadice Park Photo by Robert Perry/PA Images via Getty Images

Sporting Kansas City took on USL Championship (Division II) side Phoenix Rising FC at their home complex in Arizona early Saturday evening in Kansas City’s third official match of 2022 preseason.

Lineups and takeaways are mostly key in preseason matches. To that end, here is Sporting Manager Peter Vermes’ first 11 (which was similar to the other two preseason matches… See the bottom of this recap for those lineups):

Between the posts was Tim Melia, with Graham Zusi, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Andreau Fontas, and Logan Ndenbe across the backline (from R to L). The midfield featured Uri Rosell, Roger Espinoza, and Cam Duke, with Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton, and Daniel Salloi across the frontline. The start was Belgian import Ndenbe’s first of the preseason after arriving later in Arizona.

Ndenbe had the look of one getting comfortable early on with solid, yet simple ball movement offensively. However, the 12th minute saw Sporting – moving the ball crisply thus far – move the ball quickly out of the back to Ndenbe’s foot. The 22-year-old played for Salloi with a well-placed ball into space, angling the left winger in on goal. Salloi took a few touches and went over the outstretched leg of the Rising goalkeeper for the lead.

Soon after, Shelton was subbed off for new SKC II signee Rauf Salifu in a precautionary move due to left-calf tightness. Salifu was then taken off in favor of Ozzie Cisneros in the 26th minute. Preseason weirdness, man.

Three minutes later, a Rising attacker got behind Ndenbe off a flick-on header on which Fontas was beat. Ndenbe’s pace was not enough to recover as he man played across the goalmouth for a runner, and Phoenix leveled the match.

As Ndenbe showed positive flashes on both sides of the ball, while showing he is adjusting, Espinoza and Rosell proved to be a physical pairing in the midfield, able to aggressively win balls back with regularity. Rosell’s immediacy in his play shown through as well, looking determined to go forward and to find open teammates.

Overall in the first half, Sporting looked like the team we expect them to be on the attack and more solid on the defensive. The midfield organization seemed more cohesive than in the past. But although Phoenix Rising topped their conference last season, they did not provide MLS-level counters.

The second stanza began with Phoenix once again getting behind Ndenbe. However, this attack came to naught. Then, in a moment of compelling foreshadowing, Ndenbe and Russell combined up the left flank with a clever give-and-go that put Ndenbe in near the Rising’s end line. The newcomer hit the wise 45-degree rolling ball for a streaking Duke near the top of the box, but his shot was blocked.

Russell closed out the first team’s shift with a free kicked that banged off a post from 23 yards.

At the 62nd minute, then, Vermes made an expected overhaul to his lineup. John Pulskamp went in goal, with Kayden Pierre, Kortne Ford, Robert Voloder, and Ben Sweat across the back, with a midfield of Kaveh Rad, Jake Davis, and Jayvin Van Deventer. Salifu was inserted back up front, flanked by Cisneros and Spencer Glass.

Phoenix began to dominate proceedings from there. Kansas City’s second team struggled to build to anything substantial on the attack, despite looking very capable in possession.

Rad playing at holding midfield was an interesting twist, while Ford and Van Deventer were making their first appearances. Highlights included Pulskamp made a strong save early at his near post, and, later, Van Deventer struck a swerving drive that was tipped over the bar for a corner.

Unfortunately for Glass, he was called for a handball at the very left edge of Sporting’s box. The subsequent penalty was put away and Phoenix took a 2-1 victory.

It is clear the first team is rounding into form and that the second team has not had much time together. The biggest take away overall is that the talent that Kansas City has is strong and laden with potential in new spots and old for both the first team and the second.

Sporting KC’s last preseason match will be in Austin, TX, next Saturday at 3:00pm v. Toronto FC before kicking off the 2022 MLS Regular Season by taking on Atlanta United Sunday, February 27, in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Other preseason match lineups:

v PTFC, February 3, 2022

First Half: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Andreu Fontas, Ben Sweat (Spencer Glass 23’); Uri Rosell, Remi Walter, Roger Espinoza (Cam Duke 35’); Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton, Daniel Salloi

Second Half: John Pulskamp; Kayden Pierre, Aljaz Dzankic ^, Robert Voloder, Logan Ndenbe; Jose Mauri, Felipe Hernandez, Cam Duke (Jake Davis 75’); Grayson Barber, Ozzie Cisneros, Tyler Freeman

v Colorado Rapids, January 29, 2022

Tim Melia, Graham Zusi, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Andreu Fontas, Spencer Glass (potential SKC II signing), Uri Rosell, Remi Walter, Cam Duke, Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton, Daniel Salloi

Second half lineup:

John Pulskamp, Kayden Pierre, Brett St. Martin (draft pick), Kaveh Rad, Coby Jones (SKC Academy), Jahon Rad (SKC II), Felipe Hernandez, Jake Davis, Grayson Barber, Ozzie Cisneros, Tyler Freeman