Editorial (February 19, 2017)– Sporting KC’s pre-season is well under way at this point. Preseason is not necessarily a time to look at results, but definitely a time to read into individual performances, and overall approaches. Here are five things that have stood out so far.
Sporting KC: Five Things to Take Away From Pre-Season
Graham Zusi Is Now the Starting Right Back
Last season Saad Abdul-Salaam, or SAS, was a breakout performer at right back. Chance Myers was injured for a good part of the year, and also just didn’t live up to performance levels expected of him. Seth Sinovic went through the same thing at left back, but earned his spot back after a combination of working hard, and Jimmy Medranda‘s lack of discipline. Bruce Arena remembered Graham Zusi playing right back in the two games Sporting KC played at Los Angeles. Zusi played extremely well there in those two games, getting a 6.96 rating, and an assist there in two games from whoscored.com.
Zusi has adapted well to the move, and now it seems he’s the first choice at right back. Frankly, it didn’t look like he had any other place to go. The preference for Sporting KC would be to have him in the starting XI if he’s available. His national team move to right back has now spurred his club move there as well. Now, Sporting KC truly can have him anywhere in the XI if he is available.
Latif Blessing Won’t Be a USL Loanee
A big question mark surrounding Sporting KC’s offseason was what can we really expect from Latif Blessing. He’s only 19 years old, and had only played in the Ghanaian Premier League. His scoring record, and league MVP award surely looked good on paper. But the question was mainly, how high of a drop-off in quality was the Ghanaian Premier League compared to MLS. It’s now clear that Vermes likes him, and that he’s likely won’t be headed to the USL.
Blessing hasn’t gotten on the score-sheet. But he has shown a knack for getting in the right places at the right times. His link up play and craftiness in the final third is another plus. It’s a side of the game that Sporting KC have lacked since Krisztian Nemeth left. Whether or not he can keep up with the physicality of MLS for a whole season is another question. He’s quite small, and teams have already shown the approach of being extremely physical with him to keep him from getting space. If he stays healthy, he likely finds regular time with the team. He’s only 19, so his development is still coming. However, the early returns look nice. It would probably take a heavy dip in form for him to end up out of Sporting KC’s roster completely.
Seth Has His Spot, For Now
One thing we saw towards the end of the 2016 season was Seth Sinovic’s return as the regular left back. After a heavy dip in form, and favor with Vermes, Sinovic finally got back on track when Jimmy Medranda’s late season suspensions opened up a spot for him again. Besler couldn’t play left back anymore. Not after Houston tore him apart down the flank in a 3-3 draw in September. Sinovic came into the lineup for the penultimate game of the 2016 season and likely won’t give up his spot again for a while. Medranda and Tyler Pasher are probably the best two backup options there. Overall, I think Sporting KC’s defense is a lot more secure with Sinovic playing there so Seth owning this spot is a good thing, unless his form dips.
Medranda To Be in Attacking Role
In Vermes’ press conference a few weeks back, he mentioned how much he likes Medranda’s ability in the final third. Well, we haven’t seen him at left back nearly at all this offseason. He’s mainly played underneath the striker, replacing Benny Feilhaber as a substitute. He has looked pretty good in that spot, so that just may be where he lands for the 2017 season, as Benny’s backup. That’s not really a bad thing. He seemed more suited as an attacker anyways. What we have yet to see is if he will be a backup winger to either of Gerso Fernandes or Blessing. I’m sure he’ll fit in well there if called upon. But don’t expect him to be at left back much this year.
Ilie Sanchez is a Perfect Fit
I’ve seen a total of 90 minutes of Ilie Sanchez, and he is most certainly primed for that number six role. Sanchez is the perfect fit in Peter Vermes’ setup. He bossed around the midfield really well against both Colorado and RBNY, and played some fantastic passes releasing Gerso and Blessing. He is a smart tackler and great at holding possession. This signing might be the most underrated one of Sporting KC’s offseason. Soni Mustivar did well in this spot for the majority of last year, but Ilie just brings an added level of quality and control in that spot.