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With Mauri and Rosell Out, Sporting KC Have Plenty of Midfield Options

And some of the options in the midfield, may surprise you.

MLS: Playoffs- Semifinals-Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Today, Sporting Kansas City hosted their annual media day and they even invited the fans to the open practice portion. As a part of the day, Peter Vermes answered questions from the media and quickly dropped a surprise when it was announced that Jose Mauri would be gone from the team soon. “We’re in the process of figuring out a solution, we are parting ways, we are just trying to figure out what that mechanism will be,” said Vermes. “When I have more information, I’ll update you guys on that.”

That news comes after Mauri played for just 27 minutes as a sub and then was subbed off himself in the season opening loss to Atlanta United. He had to sub on because fellow defensive midfielder, Uri Rosell, went down with what has since been confirmed to be a hamstring injury. “In regards to Rosell, he tweaked his hamstring a little bit,” said Vermes. “But the thing is, it’s not a long-term injury. Right now he’s doing rehab.”

So one game into the season, Sporting KC went from two defensive midfielders to none, at least in the near term. Let’s look at their options for the rest of 2022.

The Short Term Solution

This one is probably pretty obvious to anyone who has watched this team in 2021 or even if you only caught the season opener this year. When Mauri was subbed out of the game, Remi Walter dropped back into the defensive midfielder spot. Myself and others were calling for him to start there basically immediately and I suspect that is the answer for now, with Mauri gone and Uri unavailable.

He played there a bit in 2021 and, while I believe his best spot for this team is further up the field as one of the dual 8s, he might be the best defensive midfielder on the team. Look for him to start against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday and in the immediate future.

Sign Someone New

While it’s not yet clear how Mauri will be removed from the roster, him leaving will open up a senior roster spot, an international spot, but potentially no salary space. My colleague Mike Kuhn and I discussed this a bit on Twitter, and if SKC buy out Mauri, they are on the hook for his salary. However, if they send him out on a free transfer, they could get some budget relief potentially.

The problem is, most of the transfer windows are shut around the world so they may have to hold him until the summer windows. That’s probably not ideal, but neither is paying him to not play (unless they really need his roster spot). We’ll talk to the team more in the future to see what way they are offloading him.

A signing could happen, but it may be more of a long-term solution.

Play Someone Else at D-Mid

At the start (and frankly the end) of the 2021 season, Ilie Sanchez was the defensive midfielder for Sporting KC. In between, the aforementioned Remi Walter got a turn, but so did several other players. Graham Zusi played a few minutes there. Roger Espinoza played a game there (and Vermes mentioned him again today), but I think it’s not his best spot. Vermes also mentioned Felipe Hernandez (full quote below).

But probably the most memorable player there was Gianluca Busio. He started the season playing as a bit of a false 9/striker when everyone expected him to be in one of the advanced midfield roles. Then he surprised most when he shifted to the 6 out of nowhere. While I don’t know that anyone else currently on the team has a profile like that, don’t rule out someone else popping up in that role.

In today’s open practice, numerous players rotated through that spot. Walter of course, but he was joined by Kaveh Rad, who got time there in preseason (K. Rad played some RB today too) and even Cam Duke. I’m not sure it’d be Duke’s best spot, but honestly, did anyone think it would be Busio’s? I’m not going to rule out someone else shuffling in there until Rosell can return or Walter makes the position his own.

Switch Formations... No Really, PV Mentioned This!

When The Blue Testament asked Vermes today who we should look out for in this role with Mauri now gone and Rosell out, PV gave an answer you could expect, but he snuck in a little something extra.

“We’ve got so many guys that can play there,” began Vermes. “Last year I played Roger there, I played Remi there. Felipe played there before. We’ve also played two and one, as opposed to one and two. So I’ve moved it around. I think what’s going to happen is that, teams we play, whether we are home or away will have effect in the short term. But over the long [term] Rosell is a very good player at that position. When he’s back, he’ll be back in there. But all these other guys can play there.” (emphasis mine)

So while that is still referencing a 4-3-3, it sounds like Vermes is referencing flipping the triangle. Sporting plays, for the most part, an inverted triangle with two more advanced 8s and a deeper lying 6. This seems to imply a double pivot where the tip of the triangle is maybe more of a 10 with two holding or defensive midfielders (if you interpret it differently, let me know in the comments).

I was running through my brain training to think of a time the team did this, and nothing jumped out at me. I was told in the 2012 or maybe 2013 season, this may have been more prevalent, but I apparently can’t remember a decade ago.

If this were to happen, putting someone like Cam Duke, Gadi Kinda (when healthy) or Marinos Tzionis in at the tip of the midfield would allow them to be more creative and free flowing and give more cover for the backline and take the burden off of just one person to shield the backline. This is something I’ll keep an eye on in the coming weeks. It’ll be interesting if PV can deprogram his midfielders from bombing too far forward.

So while none of these solutions are probably perfect, there are options for SKC.