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2022 Season Preview: The Sporting Kansas City Depth Chart

What spots are locked-up? Who deserves more minutes? Let's find out!

FC Dallas v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images

We are just six (the hype is real guys!!!) days out from Sporting KC opening the season in Atlanta so it's high time we took a final look at the depth chart. I did this exercise back in early January but we have had many new faces join the team since then and a couple more leave (read about them here & here).

We also have a full pre-season under our belt now which gives a bit of a peek into who is in form, who made the #Leap from last year, and who has regressed. So with no further ado, good readers let's dive in.

Locked-In Positions/Starters

There are some positions where the form of the players or just the relative inexperience of the depth behind them means the spot is theirs to lose. There are a lot of these but it feels like not as many as last year. This is actually a good thing because a lot of the uncertainty for the remaining positions is a case of upgrades in contenders for starting jobs.

Left-Wing: Daniel Salloi

Daniel had an MLS Best XI and nearly an MLS MVP 2021 and all signs from pre-season indicate he is not slowing down. He has scored twice in the three pre-season games that stats were published for and we know at least in two of them that he played no more than 60 minutes. Meaning he is on track to keep up with his ridiculously good open play goals+assists per 90 minutes stat from 2021 (0.88 G+A per 90). It’s worth mentioning this is the final year of his contract so expect him to either get re-signed with a huge raise or to be leaving for Europe in the summer/end of the year.

Who is behind him:
Khiry Shelton
Marinos Tzionis
Gadi Kinda/Ozzie Cisneros

Center-Forward: Alan Pulido Khiry Shelton

So remember that dark day when we heard that Alan Pulido was out for the year... well this is the product of that. Khiry Shelton has many positive qualities and I am not going to pretend that he is terrible. But one of the key qualities lacking in Khiry’s game is actually scoring, he just does not have the finishing instinct. That said he is the day one starter by all accounts and Vermes own admission. This position will be very interesting to watch though as you will see incoming striker, Nikola Vujnovic or even Kinda/Cisneros playing as false #9’s trying to make this spot theirs.

Who is behind him:
Nikola Vujnovic
Gadi Kinda
Ozzie Cisneros

Right-Wing: Johnny Russell

The only guy in the SKC squad to rival Salloi in 2021 was JFR (the F is not a middle name... it is an adjective and often a verb for what he was doing to opposing defenses). He went on a straight tear at the end of 2021, racking up an SKC record-breaking 10 consecutive games in a row with a goal or assist. He has picked up a goal in the pre-season as well and generally looked dangerous. Both Russell and Salloi benefit from the fact that the depth behind them are new faces that missed all of pre-season or a homegrown who is more of false 9.

Who is behind him:
Khiry Shelton
Marinos Tzionis
Ozzie Cisneros

Attacking Center-Midfielder: Gadi Kinda

Gadi is likely not the day 1 starter because he has been out during the pre-season with an injury. That said he is one of the most dynamic players on the field when he is healthy and rested so expect him to have this spot locked down as soon as he is fit. Add in that he can play a more than passable false #9 role and I would be shocked if we don't see him starting nearly every game.

Who is behind him:
Cam Duke
Tied: Remi Walter/Felipe Hernandez/Roger Espinoza
Ozzie Cisneros

Left Center-Back: Andreu Fontas

Fontas was very good in 2021 setting an Opta-era MLS record for touches, passes, and successful passes. His calmness on the ball and ability to spray perfect balls all over the field is key to how Peter Vermes wants SKC to play. Add in that the player below him are new faces to the team and a homegrown with limited minutes and it's hard to see anyone unseating him this year.

Who is behind him:
Tied: Robert Voleder/Kortne Ford
Kaveh Rad
Ben Sweat

Right Center-Back: Nicolas Isimat-Mirin

When Isi was healthy, he was quite good. He suffered from an injury-ridden 2021 which limited him to just 11 starts. During all of that Vermes was very high on him and made clear he had the spot if healthy. He is pacey and physical which provides a nice balance to the rangy passing but physically limited defending of Fontas. Expect to see him on the score sheet occasionally too as he has shown a knack for getting to the ball on set-pieces. Just like Fontas the players below him are new or inexperienced so it is his job to lose.

Who is behind him:
Kortne Ford
Tied: Robert Voleder/Kaveh Rad
Uri Rosell

Right Back: Graham Zusi

So let's just get this out of the way; Zusi is an elite attacking fullback in MLS and a middling to poor defensive one. His pro/con list is well documented in many other articles on this site and others. That said he is a #PeterVermesGuy and I think he would have to sacrifice a puppy to the old gods in the center circle of Children’s Mercy Park to ever not get regular minutes for this team. He by all accounts is the day 1 starter and we know what to expect from that. Be on the lookout for the positional battle to heat up as the season goes on with the promising but raw Kayden Pierre nipping at Zusi’s heels.

For what it is worth I think Graham Zusi is an excellent human being and a great locker room guy so I am happy we were able to re-sign him for this year even if I have mixed feelings about relying on a 35-year-old as a starter.

Who is behind him:
Kayden Pierre
Cam Duke

Goalkeeper: Tim Melia

Tim Melia is consistently one of the best goalkeepers in MLS. Full stop. And given that GK’s are almost never rotated between games and rarely injured I expect that we see him in every game. The one exception would be the US Open Cup where Peter likes to run out his backup GK who is likely John Pulskamp.

Who is behind him:
John Pulskamp
Kendall McIntosh

The Positions/Starters In Contention

These are the spots on the field where the competition is high and no one has made the spot truly their own... yet. They could be a revolving door throughout the season or they could get locked down by someone, only time will tell.

Box-to-Box Center-Midfielder: Remi Walter/Felipe Hernandez/Cam Duke

I am guessing this goes to Remi Walter on day 1 from the pre-season line-ups but I am far less certain that he keeps the spot than I was about the players in the tier above. Cam Duke looks like he might have made the #Leap this offseason and I could see him giving Remi a run for his money. Add in that Felipe Hernandez was starting to look very good before his suspension last year and it does not look like he has lost a step in pre-season. Finally, there is an outside shout for the more defensive Jose Mauri. I expect this to be a battle all year.

Who is behind them:
Roger Espinoza
Tied: Jose Mauri/Uri Rosell
Jake Davis

Holding Center-Midfielder: Uri Rosell/Jose Mauri/Remi Walter

I think Uri Rosell is the day 1 starter given the pre-season line-ups and PV’s high praise during press conferences. That said expect Jose Mauri to be given a shot as well. Remi Walter was also run out at this spot occasionally in 2021 as well and I liked him there a lot. This spot is very important for how SKC likes to play so I think we will see someone lock it down pretty quickly barring injuries.

Who is behind them:
Tied: Felipe Hernandez/Jake Davis
Kaveh Rad

Left Back: Logan Ndenbe/Ben Sweat

With the departure of all of the left-backs at the end of 2021, this spot is really anyone's guess. Peter has praised both Ndenbe and Sweat for quickly adapting to the system and having great attitudes. Sweat has more experience, especially in MLS but is also coming back from a 2021 season-ending ACL tear. So my guess is that we see Logan go the 90 for at least the first few games of the season. After that, it feels like a toss-up who locks down this position.

Who is behind them:
Kayden Pierre

Other Thoughts About The Roster

SKC Needs to Clearly Identify Ezpinoza’s Replacement

Espinoza is 35 and signed to a one-year deal for 2022. Despite that Espinoza still represents the most physically dominant box-to-box destroyer on the roster. I think Felipe Hernandez and Jake Davis both have the potential to be the heir apparent but neither has quite proved it to me. I really want one of those guys to get fired up, leave a foot in, and straight make it unpleasant to play against SKC. Having that as an option off the bench or starting is an asset for any team.

... Also Zusi’s Replacement

Zusi is also 35 and is also signed to a one-year deal for 2022 (with an option for 2023). I already mentioned my concerns about him being the starter above but with the sale of Jaylin Lindsey during the offseason it became a lot less clear who the heir apparent or even the backup was for Zusi. PV has indicated that it’s Pierre (Editor: has he??) and if that is the case I would love to see him start soaking up some minutes as the season goes on so that we know that is the case versus hoping that it is.

In any case, I would expect we see someone brought in after the 2022 (or 2023) season to challenge or spell Pierre. I could also see this being one of those spots that PV brings in someone from Europe during the summer transfer window who gets to acclimate for a half-season.

#PlayYourKids and/or #UseYourSubs

Last season Peter Vermes was the leading MLS coach to use the least amount of his available subs. While there are very reasonable complaints about Vermes subbing patterns last year it is hard to say that bench offered a really great selection of game-changers (although that may have been a self-imposed reality of not using his subs). This year's bench feels different with a number of either starting level of players or exciting youth talents who need minutes.

Speaking of youth talents this team got a lot younger this off-season which further underscores the need to give more minutes to players whose development needs regular game-time. If we see the same behavior as last year I will be very disappointed but I am hopeful we will not.

Final Thoughts

I am really happy with this off-season. I think this team's floor is higher than last year’s and possibly their ceiling depending on how some of the new signings pan out. Hopefully, the Boys in Blue can go out and do Atlanta United dirty on Sunday!

Bonus: Other #Content For Some 2022 Season Hype

There have been mountains of great content this season by the other Blue Testament contributors as well as others. Below is just a sampling of all the cool stuff the SKC community is doing!

For some previews of the other Western Conference teams, I would check out David Greenwald’s excellent pieces of each team:

The Blue Testament crew has been busy churning out great episodes of the Shades of Blue podcast all off-season. There are a few interviews in particular that are absolutely required listening if you want to dig deeper

In other podcast news, I have been really impressed by The Home and Away podcast that Drew VanderPloeg and Cody Welton have been doing. It reminds me a lot of Talkin’ Touches for those that listened to that back in the day.