Since the rebranding of the Kansas City Wizards into Sporting KC, there has been a push for the team to be a presence with the US national team. Whether it’s been at the full national team level with Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, who have the most caps for their national team while playing with KC, to the likes of Erik Palmer-Brown, Jon Kempin, Gianluca Busio, and others at the youth national team level. KC has regularly had a presence with the US team. That presence has started to become less prevalent, especially over the last year.
The United States men’s U17 national team this past week announced the roster for the upcoming CONCACAF U17 Championships in Guatemala. The winner of the competition will qualify for the U17 World Cup in November and December in Peru. Of the twenty players called up to represent the US in the tournament, fifteen are from MLS teams, either their academies or first team. Unfortunately, of the fifteen MLS based players, none of them are from Sporting Kansas City. That led to the question of how much has Sporting been represented at all levels of the US men’s national team structure. With that thought in mind I went and started looking at all the call-ups by the US men’s teams across all levels that I could find, dating back to January of 2022.
In my research, I found thirty-two different sets up call-ups for camps, tournaments, or games over six different national teams, the full US men’s national team, the U20 team, U19s, U17s, U16s, and U15s. Taking all of those call-up lists I tracked what club each player was marked as representing. That means that players who were out on loan, but were listed as being under the loan team, got counted under the loan team. For example, Kristian Fletcher received a call-up while he was loaned from DC to Loudoun United, so that call-up is listed under Loudoun, not DC. Players that were unattached to a club at the time but may have signed for a new team while with the US team (Sean Johnson signing for Toronto FC in this example) was listed as unattached because that’s what they were listed under when they were called up. Speaking of Johnson, he serves as another example of my method for tracking. If players received call-ups in multiple categories those counted as new call-ups for the new team. So, in the Johnson example he has call-ups under New York City FC and call-ups under unattached. To shorten the length of the list as well I put all players playing for teams in other countries under one category. I did the same with players called up from the USL, players in college, and players playing for other (non-MLS) youth clubs in the US.
In the end I divided my final list up a couple different ways, I looked at the total number of call-ups each team had for the US team and I also divided it out further, looking at all the unique call-ups for teams. In this case if a player received a call-up for multiple teams, like Paxten Aaronson, who received call-ups to the U20 team and full USMNT, is only counted once on the list. The numbers, when it came to Kansas City’s representation in the national team structure for the US was disappointing to say the least.
On both lists that I put together; Kansas City was near the bottom of the lists. In terms of overall call-ups by US teams, Sporting has had just eight over the past fourteen months. KC had no players called in to the full US national team over the length of my research. The last player called in to the full US national team was John Pulskamp in December of 2021 ahead of a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Pulskamp didn’t make the game day roster for the friendly. The last player to earn a cap for the full national team while playing for KC was Busio, who came on as a substitute in the USA’s 1-0 win over Mexico in the final of the Gold Cup on August 1st of 2021.
At the U20 level, Kansas City had two players earn a total of three call-ups. First team player, Kayden Pierre, was one of two players in the Sporting system to earn two call-ups in the range I used. The first team right back earned call-ups in May and in October/November of 2022. The other player that earned a U20 call-up in the last year or so was academy player Jayvin Van Deventer, who earned a call-up in January of 2022 for camp. Van Deventer went on to make two appearances for Sporting KC II on an academy contract before heading off to play college soccer for Northwestern.
Another first team player earned KC’s only call-up at the U19 level, as Ozzie Cisneros was called in to the US U19 team in May of 2022, his only call-up of the last year. At the U17 level, KC again had just one call-up, this one from academy player Edgar Bazan in the January 2022 camp. At the U16 level, I only found three camps last year, and in those camps, no Sporting players were called in.
The final level I looked at was the U15s, which is the only group that had two players from KC called into the same camp as Jack Kortkamp and Ramiz Hamouda were both called up for the January camp this year. Kortkamp is the other player, along with Pierre to earn two call-ups in the last year as he was also called up in October’s camp as well.
The eight call-ups by the six different players is the same number of call-ups that the Columbus Crew received over the last year. Similar to Sporting, Columbus’s call-ups were spread over numerous age groups. In fact, Columbus actually had call-ups at all six teams that I was able to find camps for.
Of the twenty-nine MLS teams, only eight had fewer call-ups over the last year than Kansas City. Of those eight teams, one is expansion side, St. Louis City (5), and three are the Canadian teams (2 for Toronto FC, one each for CF Montreal and Vancouver Whitecaps), who would obviously have more representation with the Canadian team than the American one. The other four teams are Nashville SC (7), the Colorado Rapids (6), FC Cincinnati (3), and Minnesota United (1). Of those four, six of Nashville’s seven were call-ups of just one player, Walker Zimmerman, and none at the youth level. Colorado’s all came at the younger age groups, the U17s, U16s, and U15s. Cincinnati had two players called up to the full USMNT (both this January) and one at the U15 level. Minnesota meanwhile had just one player called up over the thirty-two camps. Overall, it doesn’t feel like it’s a group that you’d want to be associated with.
At the other end of the list, the MLS team with the most call-ups in the last year is the Philadelphia Union, who had fifty call-ups, Los Angeles FC with forty-four, and the San Jose Earthquakes with forty. Another four teams have thirty or more players called up, including FC Dallas (35), Seattle Sounders (34), Orlando City (33), and Inter Miami (30).
Looking at unique call-ups, Kansas City again didn’t fair very well, as just six different players earned call-ups for Kansas City; Pierre and Van Deventer for the U20s, Cisneros for the U19s, Bazan for the U17s, and Hamouda and Kortkamp for the U15s. That again tied them with Columbus. They did move up one spot overall in the MLS standings in this category though as they moved ahead of Charlotte FC, who had fourteen total call-ups, but those fourteen came from only four different players. KC again finished ahead of expansion side, St. Louis (4), Cincinnati (3), Colorado (3), Nashville (2), Minnesota (1), and all three Canadian teams (1 each). In fact, KC only had two more call-ups to a US team than the foreign team with the most call-ups, Rangers. Rangers had four players called up in the last year to some level of the US team, James Sands and Malik Tillman for the full national team, Tyler Pasnik for the U19s, and Alexander Smith at the U15s.
At the other end of the list, the top call-ups were similar to the overall call-ups. Eleven teams in MLS had ten or more players called up to the US at various levels over the last year. LAFC and Philadelphia led the way with nineteen and seventeen, respectively. Orlando and Salt Lake both had fourteen while Dallas and San Jose each had thirteen. The Chicago Fire and Seattle had eleven while the Houston Dynamo, New York Red Bulls, and Miami all had ten. The USL have a combined eleven, with Orange County SC and the Sacramento Republic.
Other national teams
It’s obviously not completely fair to only look at the US national team when looking at the call-ups in the global game of soccer. You have to at least acknowledge that players from other countries are going to hopefully be getting call-ups from your system. For Kansas City they actually got more call-ups for players representing other countries than they did the US. Overall, Kansas City had twenty call-ups in the last year, with those twenty call-ups being among fourteen different players in Sporting’s system.
Along with the previously mentioned six players called up to different US teams, Sporting had players called up to the full Cyprian and Hungarian national teams (Marinos Tzionis and Daniel Salloi) and the youth national teams of Belgium (Logan Ndenbe), Canada (Mataeo Bunbury), Honduras (Zacarias Escobar-Bowie), El Salvador (Alex Umana), Armenia (Dylan Mirakian), and Poland (Dominik Baczewski).
I don’t have the time to go through each and every team around the league and get all their call-ups for each of their national teams, but it’s fair to guess that other teams are also getting call-ups for players for other countries as well at different levels. At least at the full national team you had some of the top teams like LAFC and Philadelphia have players called in to the likes of Ecuador, Wales, Jamaica, Hungary, and Cameroon. Other teams have had players called up to other youth national teams as well, like Real Salt Lake, LAFC, and even the Charleston Battery in the USL having players called up to Mexico’s U17 team for the upcoming U17 championship.
In the end though, is this something that KC fans should be worried about with the club, does it matter if the club is getting call-ups to any national team, let alone the US, as long as they are winning? No, it probably doesn’t matter, especially if the team is winning. If Sporting is winning call-ups don’t matter at all. At the same time though, winning does bring about call-ups as players in good form are called up by their national team. So, in a way the two can go hand in hand.
As for the youth call-ups, that can have an effect on the team as well. It shouldn’t be super surprising that a team that has done a good job over the years of integrating academy players into the first team and selling players abroad like the Union is at, or near, the top of call-ups at the youth level. A clear and direct path to the first team with specific success stories is going to continue to draw players to your academy. Kansas City has had the success of Busio in Kansas City, and to a lesser extent Palmer-Brown (though he left KC on a free transfer), but their success of integrating the academy into the first team hasn’t come fully. Daniel Salloi has been the most successful in Kansas City while others like Kevin Ellis, Jaylin Lindsey, and Felipe Hernandez have all had varying degrees of success for the first team.
With that step really missing in the process currently KC’s academy system hits a wall as they can’t attract the talent outside of Kansas City to the academy because they haven’t shown they can consistently get players to take that next step. Maybe the retirement of Jon Parry from director of the academy and Declan Jogi taking over will see fresh ideas within the academy and see them start to pull in more talent that can go on to the first team and see more players called up to the US national team.