Sporting Kansas City take the field for the first time since getting bounced from the playoffs by Real Salt Lake in 2021. They head down to Georgia to face Atlanta United, who were put out by the eventual MLS Cup winners, NYCFC.
QUESTIONABLE - None
Vermes: "Everyone is available except Pulido and Kinda."— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) February 25, 2022
I specifically asked about Ford, Mauri and Hernandez who missed preseason time. #SportingKC
Starting XI Predictions
With it being the first game of the year, I have to take it position by position. Let’s start at the front and work our way back.
It’s the position of the offseason. As soon as it was announced Alan Pulido was out, all anyone could focus on was who would play Center Forward. It’s been abundantly clear to me it’s Khiry Shelton. The guy they signed to compete with him (Nikola Vujnovic) isn’t even in the United States as of this writing. So it’s Khiry’s spot to lose going forward.
Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell will start. It’s not clear who’s available to sub on for them if they are tired. Marinos Tzionis just arrived in Kansas City, so anything more than a cameo seems unlikely (barring injury). Ozzie Cisneros played a little RW in preseason but he mostly played the false 9 (he could go there and Khiry could shift wide) and he has zero MLS minutes. I’m legit not certain Salloi and Russell sub out of this match at all. Guys like Cam Duke or Graham Zusi can play on the wing too, but that feels unlikely for Zusi who is needed elsewhere.
This is one of the position groups that’s toughest to pin down. Going into the offseason I would have said it’s Gadi Kinda and Remi Walter. Then Kinda had surgery and Walter missed a good chunk of preseason getting his green card. I’d still guess it’s Walter that’ll start, but who joins him is more questionable.
I personally would like to see Felipe Hernandez in this role. He’s a more dynamic version of Roger Espinoza but he has a nasty bite in some of his tackles. I could also see this being Cam Duke, as he’s the most like for like replacement for Gadi Kinda. All that being said, I bet PV trusts Roger to start here and the bigger question will be who subs in for him, if Vermes is truly going to limit Roger’s minutes this year.
Going into the offseason, it seemed like it’d be a position battle between summer signing Jose Mauri and whoever they brought in to replace Ilie Sanchez and Gianluca Busio. Uri Rosell was that signing (though I suppose Walter could be in this race, but I’ve seen no indication of it).
In preseason, of all the published games, Uri Rosell was with the starters the whole time. Vermes had high praise for him saying, “it’s like he never left.” It’s Uri’s job for now, plus Mauri missed some time with injury. This is a position to watch over the season.
Vermes talked about new players needing time to get acclimated, (unprompted) he highlighted Sweat, Ndenbe and Uri.— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) February 16, 2022
"Both Ben Sweat and Logan Ndenbe, their ability to acclimate to the team has been fantastic. It's been so fast. Oriol Rosell, it's like he never left." #SportingKC
This is the other position that is up for grabs. My prediction is 22-year-old Belgian Logan Ndenbe gets this start. Not because he’s the better player (he may be), but because he’s healthy. Ben Sweat got limited minutes in all his preseason appearances and I definitely don’t think he has 90 minutes in his legs. So if he starts, I imagine PV would sub on Ndenbe.
If Ndenbe does start and plays well, it could be hard to unseat him. He showed moments of brilliance and moments of hesitancy in what little we saw of him in preseason, which is to be expected. In researching these players I heard one person describe Sweat as Zusi but on the left. If he’s slow, that’s not great for this system. Fontas isn’t quick, though he positions himself exceptionally. Long-term, everyone probably wants it to be Ndenbe because of the huge upside, except Sweat and his family.
The day one starters are Andreu Fontas and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin. If they stay healthy, they’ll be hard to unseat. But if they do falter, there is some real depth here in Kortne Ford, formerly of the Colorado Rapids, Homegrown Kaveh Rad and new U-22 signing, German youth international Robert Voloder. I feel a lot better about CB in 2022. Hopefully there aren’t injuries, but if there are, they should be able to overcome them.
It’s obviously Graham Zusi. And Cam Duke may have the lead on being the backup over Kayden Pierre based on Vermes’ high praise of Cam in the offseason and bringing him up unprompted in the RB discussion. Hopefully Pierre gets his time, both for the future and to rest Zusi, but it won’t happen right away.
It’s Tim Melia. And it’ll stay that way unless he’s in really bad form or gets hurt. Next man up is John Pulskamp, but I expect he and Kendall McIntosh will rotate spending time with SKC II, who start their season at the end of March.
Rest of the 20: Pulskamp, Hernandez, Duke, Tzionis, Ford, Sweat, Voloder, Mauri, Cisneros
No Vujnovic yet. I’m hoping the new signings Marinos Tzionis and Robert Voloder are with the team partially just to see how many fans can pack an MLS stadium. It’ll be good for them to hear that rowdy crowd.
Also, Vermes get’s five subs this year as it’s a permanent rule change. Let’s see if he uses any of them, unlike last year. I could see two sides of this early. Some guys are so new (Tzionis) that they don’t know they system and he might be hesitant to play them. But at the same time, guys don’t have 90 minutes in their legs yet, so subs may be more necessary.
Well this is awkward. We voted exactly the same (though I want Hernandez and probably would vote for him over Espinoza). Either you all are reading my stuff too much or I’m reading your comments too much. We’ve melded into one person.
Here are the tallies of the votes. We’ll stick to just who got at least 5% of the vote in the results. Starters in italics.
Goalkeepers: Melia (96.4%)
Defenders: Zusi/Isimat-Mirin (98.2%), Fontas (97.3%), Ndenbe (56.4%), Sweat (38.2%)
Midfielders: Walter (79.1%), Rosell (69.1%), Espinoza (46.4%), Duke (41.8%), Kinda (30.0%), Mauri (26.4%), Fernandez (6.4%)
Wingers: Russell (97.3%), Salloi (95.5%)
Strikers: Shelton (92.7%)
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