Sporting Kansas City’s 2023 MLS season is off to a brutal start. They’ll enter the sixth week of the season without a win (0-3-2) and coming off a terrible 4-1 loss at home to the Seattle Sounders that was aided by a Ben Sweat red card. Because of that red card, and injuries to the other fullbacks on the roster (Pierre, Leibold and Ndenbe), there is a gaping hole at left back for this Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Union (it could be argued there was already a hole).
Let’s talk through some options on who should and could play left back.
Option 1: Cam Duke
Cameron Duke is an absolute jack-of-all-trades. In one game in 2022, he played both fullback positions and both winger spots. One game! And none of those are even his natural position, as he seems to operate at his best in one of the advanced midfield roles in the 4-3-3.
He may seem like the most likely candidate to step in and play for Ben Sweat, as he appeared to fill that role after the red card (and the third goal) when he came on and settled into that spot). If Duke is the answer, I’m fine with that. He’s an imperfect vessel for the role, but he’ll surely work hard, have the pace to get back and he’ll definitely add to the attack.
Option 2: Robert Voloder
Stay with me here. I know Voloder is a center back on a team that is short on starting quality center backs. However, he played a tiny bit of left back in 2022 and he’s definitely prone to get into the attack (do you see those nervously long runs from CB into the attack?).
From a defensive standpoint, this might be the most solid option. The team sort of settles into a back three at times anyways with alternating fullbacks getting forward. This would allow Graham Zusi to be the primary fullback pushing up the field and you’d essentially have three CBs staying home.
There are two other CBs who have been with the team for a bit now in second round pick Chris Rindov and, post-Kortne Ford injury signing, Robert Castellanos. However, there is also a new choice. South American Dany Rosero arrived in Kansas City over the weekend and reports are he could be available immediately. It’s a big ask, but don’t rule it out.
Dany Rosero arrived in KC over the weekend. He will potentially be available for selection on Saturday. #SportingKC— Daniel Sperry (@sperrydaniel94) March 27, 2023
Options 3: Someone from SKC II
On this week’s For the Glory KC, Sheena asked me if a second team player could be loaned up and I incorrectly told her they couldn’t be. I was asked on the fly, and things have changed a bunch since MLS Next Pro has come into existence. I referenced the “Extreme Hardship Call-Up” rule that was in place for USL Championship loans (and still exists today), but there is a newer rule. The “Affiliate Short-Term Agreement.” Here is the full rule, from MLS themselves.
A club may sign a player, age 25 or younger during the league season, from its affiliate (MLS NEXT Pro) to a maximum of four Short-Term Agreements (up to four-day contracts) each season (maximum of 16 days).
An individual player may be included on up to four MLS league season match rosters each season, however, that player may appear in no more than two MLS league season matches. An individual player may appear in any number of non-league games during the terms of his four Short-Term Agreements.
A club may roster up to four players on Short-Term Agreements per MLS league season match, so long as they are Homegrown Players or Players earning less than or equal to the MLS Senior Minimum Salary ($85,444) with the affiliate. This number will be reduced to one player per MLS league season match after Roster Freeze (inclusive of MLS Cup Playoffs). Additional players may also be signed to Short-Term Agreements for MLS league season games but only in cases of Extreme Hardship.
International Player limits still apply to Short-Term Agreements, excluding callups for cases of Extreme Hardship.
You may remember Sporting doing this last year with Julian Vazquez (no longer with SKC II). He never got into a game, but it was an option.
Now who can play left back on SKC II? Well, this past Sunday, Diedie Traore started there. He was formerly with the LA Galaxy, so it’s a possibility. The team also has homegrown fullbacks Coby Jones (LB), Leo Christiano (LB), Nati Clarke (RB) and Mikey Lenis (RB). All three of them are talented young players, though mostly only Jones and Christiano play on the left that I’ve seen. The team also has 25-year-old rookie right back Lucas Rosa.
I doubt any of these moves happen, but I won’t completely rule out one of them getting a loan just to have some fullback depth.
Option 4: Someone Gets Healthy
I mentioned right off the top of the story that Tim Leibold, Logan Ndenbe and Kayden Pierre were out with injury. It’s possible, they could just be healthy enough to play. It seems that Pierre and Ndenbe are still at least a few weeks out, but Leibold has been listed as questionable each week since he left the game against the LA Galaxy.
If anyone was going to bounce back, it’d be Leibold. If he’s healthy, he’s surely the guy.
- It’s always possible another midfielder could step into this role. Jake Davis played RB for Graham Zusi late in the loss to Seattle. Roger Espinoza started his career at LB for SKC. I just don’t see either of these happening.
- The team could also look to change formations. They did this in a US Open Cup game last year, but it was going so badly, they switched out of it at the half. This feels like a reach for me too.
- The last option is to sign someone. The team’s roster is at capacity and having four signed LBs seem ridiculous (looking at you KED). They can technically put Kortne Ford on the season-ending injury list and clear a spot (or cut someone, like Sweat), but I don’t see it either.
The simplest answer is probably the best one. If Leibold is healthy, he plays. If not him, it’ll probably be Voloder or Duke.