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Sporting Kansas City: Season Preview 2022

More of the same, or a different script?

SOCCER: AUG 06 MLS - Atlanta United FC at Sporting KC Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sporting Kansas City’s 2022 season is almost upon us. We will revel in the victories, bitch and moan about all sorts of things, be surprised, probably under-appreciate the spoils they give us fans, and love every minute.

But what will this new life bring us? More of the same, or a different script?

Let us take a look. And please give your thoughts in the comments section below. You are what makes this community thrive.

2021 Review

Season Finishes:

  • 17W – 10L – 7T = 58pts – MLS Regular Season, 3rd in the West
  • 1 – 1 – 0 – MLS Cup playoffs, Conference Semifinal
  • 0 – 1 – 0 = 0pts – Leagues Cup
  • N/A = Lamar Hunt US Open Cup

But those records do not tell the whole story. In Leagues Cup, Kansas City dropped an ugly 6-1 decision to Liga Mx side Leon. Then, needing only three points in their final three matches to win the West, Sporting unfolded, literally, with three losses to drop to third place. However, Sporting KC was on or near the top of the West for most of the season and hit for many well-crafted team and individual goals and won impressive victories, including two at Seattle Sounders.

The Offseason Count: 8 In; 10 Out

Striker: “Out” is Alan Pulido, the most expensive player in Sporting history, due to “osteochondral allograft” surgery, likely for the entire season, as well as Tyler Freeman and Wilson Harris. After a series of rumored signings, Sporting signed 25-year-old Montenegrin striker Nikola Vujnovic.

Wingers: Out is late cut Grayson Barber. In is 20-year-old Cypriot Marinos Tzionis.

Midfielders: Out is transformative holding midfielder Ilie Sanchez. In is the returning 29-year-old Uri Rosell, signed as a free agent.

Wide backs: Out are both 2021 left backs Amadou Dia and Luis Martins, and up-and-coming right back Jaylin Lindsey. In are left backs Ben Sweat (free agent) and 22-year-old Belgian Logan Ndenbe.

Center backs: Out is Roberto Puncec. In are 26-year-old Kortne Ford (free agent) and 20-year-old German Robert Voloder.

Goalkeeper: Out is goalkeeper Brooks Thompson

Offseason Reflection: That is significant turnover. And one head-shaking full season injury.

2022 Thoughts going in:

Will Vujnovic be good enough to not only push Khiry Shelton (he of hotly debated value) at striker, but to overtake him and produce more than Shelton’s three goals, six assists of 2021? Oh, don’t forget, can whoever claims a stake at striker also produce Pulido’s 8g and 3a?

Sometimes it takes a village. With the additions of the potential laden Vujnovic and Tzionis, a more seasoned Ozzie Cisneros, and the return of Felipe Hernandez and the offseason jump of Cam Duke in the midfield, Sporting’s attack has the depth and varied talent to cover Pulido’s production and free up top wingers Salloi and Russell even more.

This season is also Jose Mauri’s first full season. But will he and Uri Rosell really be an upgrade over Ilie Sanchez/Remi Walter at the #6 (and let’s not forget Gianluca Busio pumped up that spot last season too)? The sturdiness of the midfield defense, especially in transition, depends on them upgrading the position.

However, Vermes and his staff did a better job of tutoring the midfield cohesiveness for the postseason, certainly buoyed by Isimat-Mirin’s presence at right center back. Sporting was not the sieve it was in the 2020 postseason – and for much of the 2021 season – in the 2021 playoffs. The hope is that continues from the start in 2022.

Overall, Sporting KC will still dominate possession, Andreu Fontas and the left side diamond will possible be even more dynamic and dangerous with Logan Ndenbe’s more explosive presence (and when Gadi Kinda returns fully from surgery), and Johnny Russell will go on a tear as some point. Of course, Tim Melia will make at least one save per match to save Sporting’s, ummm… lunch.

More importantly, Vermes’ side will exhibit that classic team-first mentality and push for excellence and pull off wins most fans and pundits don’t think they can or will.

The crash and burn of 2019 induced by CONCACAF Champions League fatigue and a biblical plague of injuries was an anomaly. Sporting will remain in the top five of MLS’s Western Conference, right where they belong. But like 2020 and 2021, the postseason will be a question, unless someone becomes that unique player who can consistently turn a match in an instant, someone who is not a winger.

2022 Predictions

Robert (@SpKCLife) says: 3rd place in West, behind Seattle Sounders and Nashville SC

  • Most Valuable Player: Johnny Russell
  • Newcomer of the Year: Nikola Vujnovic
  • Comeback Player of Year: Nicolas Isimat-Mirin
  • Leading Goal scorer: Johnny Russell

Dan (@dan_mccown) says: 4th place in West, really tough to predict this year because of all the new faces but with Pulido out all year it just seems like this team has a relatively lower ceiling than last year. Add in that last year Salloi and Russell had Best XI years that are likely not repeatable, and it’s not clear to me if Sporting has the firepower to push into the top three. On the other hand, if a couple of our new forward line signings turn out to be stars, then there is a real shot.

  • Most Valuable Player: Andreu Fontas
  • Newcomer of the Year: Logan Ndenbe
  • Comeback Player of Year: Felipe Hernandez
  • Leading Goal Scorer: Daniel Salloi

Mike (@downthebyline) says: 5th place in West, the midfield is very deep and Tim Melia will do Tim Melia things in 2022; those areas are both set. It’s the other two lines that I question. Up front you have two of the best wingers; can Russell and Salloi duplicate that production again? With Pulido out, there will be a need for those two to carry the load of the goal scoring burden.

Defensively, Kansas City allowed the eighth fewest goals in the league last year, but the defense as a whole didn’t feel like the Kansas City defenses we were used to. Returning three-fourths of the starting back four should be a good thing for stability, but with Graham Zusi turning 36 this year, Andreu Fontas turning 33, and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin turning 31, questions about the legs have to come in to play. On top of that, this is three-fourths of a back four that last year could not once lock down a 1-0 win the whole season, the first time in the club’s history they’ve not had a 1-0 win in the regular season.

  • Most Valuable Player: Johnny Russell
  • Newcomer of the Year: Logan Ndenbe
  • Comeback Player of Year: Felipe Hernandez
  • Leading Goal Scorer: Johnny Russell

David (DGreenwald in the comments) says: 4th in West, behind Seattle Sounders, LAFC, and Nashville “Losing Pulido hurts, but he missed so many games that Sporting are not going to miss THAT much production. Questions are how they replace Gadi Kinda, if Zusi continues to defy age, and if the backline can hold together. Kansas City will end up competitive all season long and will be six points back of Seattle after decision day.

  • Most Valuable Player: Daniel Salloi
  • Newcomer of the Year: Marinos Tzionis
  • Comeback Player of Year: Felipe Hernandez
  • Leading Goal Scorer: Daniel Salloi

Chad (@PlayFor90) says: 4th in the West behind Seattle and who knows who else. Nashville, LAFC and Portland all seem like candidates. I will disagree with Dan in saying I think their ceiling is still 1st. No reason they can’t win the West if everything goes right. Statistically, they had very few injuries last year and are hurting a bit more this season already, so maybe it takes a dip.

But I really like what PV did with the roster construction and it feels like usable depth. The Homegrown players (that weren’t cut) have a year more in the system, they spent big through the U-22 Initiative and they acquired some solid veteran depth. I share Robert’s concern that if the defensive midfielder position doesn’t do it’s job, it could all be for nothing, but there is a good foundation. Too many injuries can undo all that though.

  • Most Valuable Player: Johnny Russell
  • Newcomer of the Year: Logan Ndenbe
  • Comeback Player of Year: Felipe Hernandez
  • Leading Goal Scorer: Daniel Salloi

Thad (@TheBackpost) says: SKC will very likely make the playoffs and I think they will finish in the top 4, with not a lot of points separating first to fourth. I will not be at all surprised if they finish first or second and the final positions decided when SKC and Seattle meet in the next to last game.

Like every year, an injury or two could seriously throw the team in a tailspin.

The newcomers could be the biggest story of the year, even bigger than Pulido being out for the year. Tzionis and Vujnovic WILL get playing time and are a huge unknown at the moment. If they are as good as hoped, it could be a fun year for Vermes. If they are not... I will sneak back in and change my predictions... (Just kidding)...

  • Most Valuable Player: Johnny Russell
  • Newcomer of the Year: Logan Ndenbe (by virtue of starting the most games)
  • Comeback Player of Year: Felipe Hernandez (can Isi count?)
  • Leading Goal Scorer: Daniel Salloi