Welcome to 2023. It’s going to be a busy year for Kansas City soccer with all four professional teams in the city. Combined the four will play around one hundred competitive games in 2023. Add in a Gold Cup, the women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and it’s going to be a packed year again. With that in mind here’s a look at my wishes for 2023.
1. Silverware. Always number one every year, winning trophies. Sporting KC will have the chance at four trophies in 2023, the Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, US Open Cup, and Leagues Cup. The KC Current will have three trophies they’re battling for, the NWSL Shield, NWSL Championship, and Challenge Cup. Sporting KC II and the KC Comets will both be battling for one trophy in 2022. There’s a number of trophies to win for KC teams, hopefully they bring home one or more.
2. At least a ten plus point improvement over 2022 for Sporting. Sporting finished the 2022 season in twelfth place in the Western Conference on forty points, seven points below seventh place Real Salt Lake and a playoff spot. Ten more points for Kansas City in 2022 would have put them on fifty points and seen them level on points with the fourth seeded LA Galaxy and fifth seeded Nashville SC. So as a start for 2023 that seems like as good a place as any. Obviously, I’d love to see more improvement than that, but let’s start there.
3. Make a splash signing. The news from the other day about Sporting’s serious interest in bringing in Cristiano Ronaldo is a double-edged sword for the club. They’ve earned press for trying to sign one of the best players to play the game to come to MLS and specifically Kansas City. It’s a statement of intent from the club that they can and will compete with the likes of Los Angeles FC and Atlanta United to bring in top tier talent. At the same time though it now leaves Kansas City without excuses to bring in top tier world class players. For so long the excuses like money and being in the middle of the country have been used for why KC couldn’t get those top tier players that come to KC. But if they’re willing to even come close to matching the salary, incentives, and commercial details that Ronaldo is reportedly getting for signing in Saudi Arabia, they can absolutely make overtures to other players to get them to come to Kansas City as well. This isn’t like 2012 when Peter Vermes said the team had tried to sign Giovani Dos Santos, the bar has been raised in terms of expectations, now’s the time to prove how serious KC’s ownership was. And as I was writing this, Sam McDowell came out with a further report on the Ronaldo pursuit that makes it sound like they could be on their way to: “One source told The Star that Sporting has already been contacted by another European star who expressed interest in such a move. “
4. Young player break out season. Having a young player come out and be a consistent contributor to the first team not only gives you hope for the current season, but it gives you hope for the future of the team as well. For Sporting, they haven’t had a player on the league’s 22 under 22 list in the last two years. The last player to appear on that list was Gianluca Busio in 2020. Logan Ndenbe was close last year but never seemed to fully take control of the left back position and lost that starting spot to Ben Sweat during KC’s run down the stretch. KC has other candidates currently on the roster in the likes of the club’s two other U22 initiative players, Marinos Tzinois and Robert Voloder as well as homegrown player, Kayden Pierre. Goalkeeper John Pulskamp could also fill that spot if he can beat out a returning Tim Melia for the starting job in 2023. There are players there that could, I just want one to actually step up and do it this year.
5. Zusi retirement as a “One Club Player.” Sporting KC legend, Graham Zusi will be back for at least one more year with Kansas City, signing a new contract with the club for the 2023 season with an option for 2024. I’m not sure this will be Zusi’s last run, Zusi had an effective 2022 season for Kansas City and when he didn’t play, the previously mentioned Pierre did well in his place. I’ve stated multiple times I want Zusi to end his career with KC, I want him to be one of those “one club players” who spends his entire playing career with one team.
6. Vermes contract decision. Back in May of 2018, Sporting KC and head coach/technical director Peter Vermes agreed to a contract extension. That contract runs through the end of the 2023 season. So, Vermes is entering the last year of his deal with the club. There have been plenty of fans over the recent past, especially last season, who are ready to see Vermes move on, or at least switch to only having one of his roles with the team instead of being both the head coach and sporting director. It’s hard to imagine this club without Vermes involved in some way so him being allowed to just “walk” at the end of the 2023 season seems unlikely. But could something be done to begin some kind of transition?
7. Kinda and Pulido return and are contributors. We know that Kansas City is supposed to get their two designated players back this year with Gadi Kinda and Alan Pulido returning from missing the entire 2022 season. The question is how well those two will do once they return this season. Obviously having been out for an entire year, rust, fitness, and hesitancy coming off the injury can all play a role in either player struggling to return from injury. Some of the comments coming out this offseason, specifically in regard to Pulido, have questions about his ability to play, at least out of the gate. KC has midfield depth to allow Kinda to get up to speed, and with the emergence of Willy Agada at least has a starter at center forward coming into the season. But having both DPs available and playing is going to be an important thing for Kansas City in 2023.
8. Leagues Cup break in season doesn’t slow league play momentum. I’ve not hidden my dislike for the Leagues Cup since it was announced. Especially so when it was announced that MLS would be taking a month off from league play to host the tournament for all the teams in the league starting this coming season. Starting after their game on July 15th, KC does not play another league game until August 26th. That’s five straight weeks without a league game. During that time KC will play at least two Leagues Cup games, one on the road against another MLS side and one at home against a LigaMX side. Depending on when those two games are, if KC don’t advance out of the group stage, they could still have three weeks without a game which could certainly cause some problems with rust when teams return to MLS action.
9. Mewis and Williams see plenty of time on the field for the Current. Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams were the two big additions for the KC Current ahead of the 2022 season. Combined, the two played just three games in the Challenge Cup and didn’t appear at all in league play before injuries ended their season. Hopefully in 2023 both players are able to return to the field and help contribute to the Current’s 2023 season. Williams didn’t seem far off by the end of the season, regularly training with the first team. Mewis on the other hand seems to still be in question. The additions that the Current have made to the midfield this offseason is certainly another thing that could give fans pause about Mewis’s future.
10. Current push to earn playoff bye. The Current had a (small) shot to clinch a top two see in 2022 but results not going their way, combined with a loss to Racing Louisville saw Kansas City end as the five seed and having to go on the road twice to make the NWSL Championship. Now the Current made it work, beating the Houston Dash and OL Reign on their path to the final, but in 2023 I’d like to see KC make a push for the top two, or even win the NWSL Shield.
11. Playoff push for Sporting KC II. In 2022 Sporting KC II finished fifteen points outside a playoff berth, finishing on thirty-one points with a 9-12-3 record with one shootout win. The nine wins is their most since 2018, they’ve won a combined twenty-four games in the last four seasons. SKCII is obviously more about development, but some measure of success would be good as well. Pushing for a playoff berth would at least give a starting point. Some success with the second team would certainly help the players in terms of development.
12. Sporting KC II player shows enough to earn a first team contract. While I was writing the last wish it started to morph into a completely different wish, so I added this wish as well. This team has struggled for a very long time, the club hasn’t had any player make the jump from SKCII to the first team since Wilson Harris was signed to a first team contract, and he only lasted on the first team for a season. The last (or only) SKCII to SKC success story is Felipe Hernandez, the whole goal of SKCII was to get players more ingrained in the SKC system and bring them up to the first team. Only three players on the roster (Hernandez, John Pulskamp, Jake Davis) began their playing career on professional contracts with SKCII. I’d like to see someone show enough that they can make the jump to the first team.
13. Comets win the East. The Comets had been trading home wins with away losses to start the season, up until this past weekend where they reversed the result. I’d hope that the Comets can figure things out and make a push to finish at the top of the conference and try to make the MASL final. The Comets do have their hands full in the East though with traditional powers like the Milwaukee Wave and Baltimore Blast along with last year’s finalist, the Florida Tropics.
14. USWNT win the 2023 World Cup. The year 2022 did not end the way the US women would probably have wanted to as they lost three of their last four games in 2022, all to teams that they could potentially face in the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. They’re the defending champions though so they’ll obviously still be a favorite. They’ll have an interesting group stage as they’ll face off against the team they beat in the 2019 final, the Netherlands in the second of three group games. Their other two games will be against Vietnam and the winner of a playoff between Cameroon, Thailand, and Portugal.
15. USMNT win 2023 Gold Cup. The run to the 2026 World Cup in the US now starts. With the US automatically qualifying for the next World Cup as hosts, it’s going to reduce the number of competitive games the US men’s national team will play ahead of the World Cup. That means the competitive games that they do play will become more important to the team. Technically that starts with Nations League in March as the US have to finish in the top two in their group to qualify for the Gold Cup. The US has games at Grenada and home against El Salvador, one point in either of those games qualifies the US for the Gold Cup. Getting the most from these competitive games is important, so games against Mexico, Canada, and Costa Rica is what the US needs. They also hopefully need that rumored invite to Copa America for more competitive games.