Preseason is here! Sporting Kansas City are headed to Arizona today for the first phase of two trips to the Valley ahead of the start of the 2023 season. It’s a chance to “get the boys back together” and bring in new faces. The premier signing of the offseason, Nemanja Radoja, is the most noticeable of the new names.
But there are nine other names on the list that are sure to peak fans interested. There are SKC Academy members, two from Sporting KC II, unsigned second round SuperDraft pick Chris Rindov and three trialists.
The biggest surprises are always likely to be the trialists. We knew about Honduran winger Yeison Mejia, who we highlighted last week (check out that story for more on Mejia). But who are these other players?
If this name sounds familiar it’s because he used to play for Sporting KC II before he went off to college. A graduate of Blue Valley High School, Abualnadi played for the Swope Park Rangers briefly during the 2019 USL Championship season. He showed a ton of promise, but then chose to go to college (he was on an amateur academy contract). He started his career with Notre Dame before finishing with the University of Pittsburg.
Maybe most importantly for Kansas City fans is that Abualnadi is a center back. The 21-year-old is a rare player from the SKC Academy who is north of six feet tall (6’1), or at least it seems rare based on the players we’ve seen.
Abualnadi is also a Palestinian youth international and previously was a part of Jordan’s youth national team.
Mo fits the profile of a player who would be able to sign a Homegrown contract and be the 5th center back (assuming the team signs a fourth) and develop further with the second team if he doesn’t just sign directly to SKC II.
Mekideche is a 22-year-old center back who stands at 6’2 and is left-footed (Sporting KC just collecting all the left CBs). He joined Canadian Premier League club Valour FC in the middle of last season and made 10 appearances (eight starts), adding an assist in the process. Before that stop in Canada, he spent time with Algerian first division side JS Kabylie and Tunisian club CS Hammam-Lif.
According to Transfermarkt, Mekideche holds dual citizenship in Canada and Algeria, presumably meaning he may require an international roster spot. He did play his youth soccer in Canada, so with the MLS roster rules he might not count as an international. It’s tough to say for sure.
Update 1/9/23 11:28 PM: More on SKC preseason trialist Nassim Mekideche from the Northern Tribune.
We’ve covered Mejia extensively, including highlights and other details, in our initial rumor story last week. Go check that out.
The news on Afrifa (below) may mean he has a better chance of making the team than it originally seemed.
The Other Non-Roster Invitees
Saylon is one of the more promising prospects coming through the Kansas City system. He’s a goalkeeper who made three starts on an Academy deal with SKC II last year. He allowed four goals in those games and won a shootout in the last game of the season at St. Louis City SC II. He’s just 16-years-old.
An SKC II rostered player, Bandre is also a GK, the only one who was permanently under contract with the second team last year. He got five starts and allowed 10 goals. He’s from Salina, Kansas and played collegiately for the Northwestern Wildcats.
Molinaro is another SKC Academy keeper. He’ll join in the third week of preseason when Saylon returns home. Not much information is available on Molinaro but he’s part of the 2007 class. In a search, he gets compared to Gaga Slonina, but the evaluator says he’s below him in talent. The fact that he’s getting a call to preseason says something about his potential.
We covered the SKC II signing earlier in the offseason. He played for the LA Galaxy, Los Dos and San Antonio FC (winning the USLC in 2022). Traoré is a French and Mali dual national and is still just 23-years-old. He mostly plays left back but appears to have the ability to play CB as well. Sporting put out more on Traore when he originally signed with the II’s earlier in the offseason.
Another SKC Academy defender. He’s a high school Junior right now and while SKC list him as a defender, Top Drawer Soccer has him as a midfielder. Overall, just a few references to him on the U-15s and U-17s for SKC over the last few years with no further indication of where he was lined up.
Another center back, Rindov was selected in the second round of the 2023 MLS SuperDraft. The University of Maryland product stands 6’2 and would also appear to be in line to compete for a center back spot on the roster, or to end up on SKC II.
Where is Stephen Afrifa??
Just below the announced roster was this nugget from the team.
“Note: 2023 MLS SuperDraft selection Stephen Afrifa will return to Florida International University for the spring semester of his senior year and will be placed on Sporting KC’s College Protected List.”
This isn’t unlike when 2021 SuperDraft pick Jamil Roberts chose to return to school instead of immediately joining the team. The biggest difference is Roberts was taken 77th overall while Afrifa was picked 8th.
The plan to use Afrifa to ease Alan Pulido back onto the field would seem to be out the window. I’m guessing that means we either see another signing (which seems unlikely) or Khiry Shelton lines up as the backup center forward. I won’t rule out Ozzie Cisneros playing there. He played some CF with the II’s before getting injured in the US Open Cup last season.
Overall, it’s a little heavier on trialists than in years past. It’s not uncommon to see SKC Academy, Sporting KC II and SuperDraft picks make the trip. But in recent years there have been one or no trialists in most seasons. I’ll be interested to see if Sporting envision these guys on the first or second team (or out the door entirely).
There is definitely a chance to make the team if you are a CB and the team brought plenty of them. The goalkeepers are likely there to develop and be bodies in goal, as the first team is set between John Pulskamp, Tim Melia and Kendall McIntosh.
The Afrifa news does add some intrigue to seeing who the third striker is. It’s probably Khiry Shelton with Afrifa maybe being able to join after college finishes. This could also open the door for someone like Mejia to make the roster if Shelton is depth at CF which would mean more wing depth is needed.
The Blue Testament will bring you more preseason coverage in the coming days and weeks. Stick with us!