Editorial- Sporting KC had an extremely successful 2018. They finished top of the West in the regular season, set a franchise record for goals scored, posted a top five defensive record, and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in the MLS Cup Playoffs. While that heartbreaking loss to the Portland Timbers might be the after taste that Sporting KC fans are left to chew on until they open their Champions League Campaign, Sporting KC’s season should be seen as taking positive steps forward, despite coming short on the goal to win a trophy.
2018 MLS Season in Review: Sporting KC
It’s incredibly difficult to pick an overall “Team MVP” for Sporting KC in 2019. So many players had banner years, and plenty of guys had breakouts for them. But I think it’s pretty easy to say that Ilie Sanchez was the most valuable player for Sporting. It’s easy to go with the guy who scores all the goals, but with so much of the goalscoring wealth spread around in 2018, Sanchez’s consistency and leadership both on and off the field was something that stood out above all. Ilie’s understanding of the system, and how everyone else works in their places as long as he’s solid, absolutely makes Sporting’s overwhelming system work.
What Went Wrong in 2018
To be completely honest, I don’t think there was much that went wrong for them in 2018. If there was any one thing to point to is that they didn’t really have a second option to go to when it came to tactics or game management. Not that their style didn’t work, but in the second half of the game against Portland, or after they had a good lead in the second leg against Real Salt Lake, it would’ve been nice if they had a good system that they could implement for 20 or 30 seconds to manage the pressure they were under, and get more defensive cover in the midfield.
Roger Espinoza was much more attack minded in 2018, which led to a career year in goals and assists for the Honduran midfielder. But the ability to maybe drop him in alongside Ilie and almost turn to a double pivot midfield system to press and counter opponents when managing a lead, could’ve been beneficial. Will Sporting KC ever attempt to add that to their repertoire? Maybe. But they’ve always been pretty set in the “we are who we are and we’re not changing that” camp.
What Went Right in 2018
The biggest thing for Sporting KC going in to the 2018 season was whether or not they could score goals. Well, they did. A lot. They set a club record for goals scored in the regular season, finding solid contributions from everywhere. 16 different goal scorers, and two reached double digits, after no player reached double digits in goals in 2017. Their last double digit goal scorer was Dom Dwyer in 2016. On top of that they had seven players with at least five assists. Most, if not all of their newcomers in 2018 hit the ground running. Felipe Gutierrez got off to a hot start and finished strong after an injury kept him out of three months of the season. Johnny Russell became Sporting KC’s first 10 goal and 10 assist man since 2015. Daniel Salloi’s breakout on top of it all was a sight to behold as well, as the 22 year old bagged 11 goals and 7 assists. That was their biggest question, and they answered it pretty strongly.
What Do They Need To for 2019?
There is plenty they can do for 2019. The biggest would be to add another trophy. They’ve got a lot of young talent in the wings that will most certainly continue to be integrated in 2019. They also need to add some depth on the backline and the midfield. And if the big “Star Striker” becomes available, you can bet on Sporting KC pulling the trigger. Their needs aren’t very many, and most of their team is returning in 2019. They’re extremely close to a trophy. But a little bit more fine tuning, and they’ll be poised for a cup-run in 2019.