Editorial- Sporting KC had another solid season in 2017. A seventh straight playoff victory, and fourth US Open Cup Title were definitely the positives of the season. But a falter at the end cost them a chance to go far into the postseason, as all they needed was a win in their final five games to clinch a home game. Instead, they picked up two points. There is plenty more to dive into in what was an eventful season for Sporting KC in 2017.
Sporting KC 2017 Season in Review
There can be no doubt in anybody’s mind that Tim Melia is Sporting KC’s MVP for the 2017. Sporting KC’s goals against record in 2017 was tied for the eighth lowest of all time (29). Tim Melia was only in goal for 24 of those goals against as he missed the final two and a half games due to a calf injury. Melia was impressive though. He had the highest save percentage in the league for goalkeepers who played in at least 17 games (1,530 minutes). Not only did he boast that, but an incredible save percentage on shots within the 18 yard box. Melia was tied with Zack Steffen for most PK saves (3), and was the only Goalkeeper in the league with a sub 1.00 GAA that played in more than half their teams games. Melia was everything to Sporting KC in 2017, and is now knocking on the door for a USMNT call-up with his play. Melia was quite good and it’s easy to see why he’s up for Goalkeeper of the year. That is why there is no doubt that he is this year’s Sporting KC Team MVP.
What Went Wrong
Despite having one of the best defenses in the history of the league, Sporting KC’s offense was truly one of the worst, at least in terms of finishing. They weren’t as terrible as DC United, nor were they as bad as the Rapids. However, they were tied for third to last at 39 goals with the San Jose Earthquakes and Orlando City. It would be one thing if they had 39 goals scored because they weren’t creating chances, but that was the complete opposite of the case.
americansocceranalysis.com does a fantastic job of tracking all the xG stats for us and keeping them in one place. According to them, they were 10th in xG for the season at 50.5. They underperformed their xG by nearly 11 goals. Not good. If they end up matching that, they probably would’ve been hosting a playoff game, and maybe even the Western Conference Regular Season Champions. If they could’ve fixed their goalscoring issues, they would’ve been fine, and easily the most complete team in at least the Western Conference. But here we are, talking about another road knockout round loss. A
A lot of people want to point to Dom Dwyer’s exit as a reason, but that wasn’t the case. Dwyer, in the same system, would’ve likely done no better than Diego Rubio. In fact, in a different system he still wasn’t as productive as Rubio was after the trade was made. That’s not to shower Rubio in glory, however. It does go to show that Sporting just purely didn’t have a good enough goal scoring threat, something Peter Vermes even admitted at the end of the season.
Vermes: “We overachieved in every area but one, and that’s goal scoring.”
— Sam McDowell (@SamMcDowell11) November 3, 2017
What Went Right
There were still plenty of things that went right in Kansas City this year. One of the big things for Sporting KC this year was their defense. At the heart of that was MLS Defender of the Year for 2017, Ike Opara. Opara’s renewed commitment to personal health and fitness let him accumulate his highest amount of games played in his career. With Ike, it was never about talent, it was just staying on the field. His one big injury was a concussion, but benefitted from a large spread in off days between his next game, allowing him to keep going. The game that he suffered that concussion in, was a U.S. Open Cup Quarter final against FC Dallas. The Open Cup was definitely one of those things that went right in 2017.
Sporting KC picked up their fourth trophy in the last few years, winning their third Open Cup under Peter Vermes. Sporting KC smacked Minnesota United FC in the first round and got past the Houston Dynamo in the fourth round. They faced the other part of Texas in the Quarter Final, in what was an epic match. Sporting KC scored three goals in extra time, after holding off FC Dallas with ten men, for 80+ minutes. Sporting KC then scraped by the Earthquakes in Penalty Kicks and set themselves up to host the final against New York Red Bulls. Their 2-1 win, fueled by two young emerging talents was easily the highlight of their season. Those two young talents? Also a bright spot in 2017.
Daniel Salloi coming back on loan wasn’t hyped up as much as Sooney Saad’s return. The bromance between him and Dwyer was a media darling, and that much was obvious. But by the end of the season, Salloi had replaced Saad in the squad, and in the hearts of many Sporting KC fans. The confident, and ever-smiling forward had a breakout second half of the season, scoring three goals and setting up two. Salloi’s quick emergence onto the scene can only foreshadow a bright future for him. Throw in Latif Blessing and his performance so far, Sporting KC definitely have a few bright, young talents to look forward to next year.
What to do for 2018
Sporting KC need another goalscorer. Plain and simple. Diego Rubio will cut it for 15 minutes a game, maybe 10-12 starts to help balance rotation through all their competitions. Sporting KC qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League thanks to their Open Cup triumph. This is now something they will have to deal with. Throw in that, and the Open Cup, Sporting KC need just one more major goalscoring threat to their squad. I’m not sure how they will, or where they’ll get one, but they need one badly. They also need a new #10.
The number 10 in Sporting KC’s way of playing isn’t entirely a full-time attacking player. They do have defensive responsibilities. But I’m sure Sporting KC might trade a few goals against for plenty more for them. Benny Feilhaber will be 33 next year, and the decline is starting to get real. Feilhaber had five goals in one assist. It’s a significant decline from what he was able to do before then. They’ll need to get someone a little more assertive, and a little more productive for next season. These are also all things that the Sporting KC staff has keyed in on. Guys like Graham Zusi and Matt Besler probably have one more year left in them, so they don’t entirely need to sell out to find replacements for them. But Sporting KC truly need to throw in as much of their offseason resources into finding a way to score goals. If they do that, you’ve got a big time MLS Cup Contender in 2018.