Editorial (February 19th, 2019)- After Sporting KC crashed out of the MLS Cup Playoffs last season, many were disappointed. However, they had beaten their “schedule” as Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes admitted that they weren’t expecting to be ready to compete in the final months in 2018. But here they are now, in 2019, with a full slate of competitions ahead, and a strong roster ready to compete. Here are Three Questions that need to be answered for Sporting KC in 2019.
Three Questions for Sporting KC’s 2019 Campaign
Is There Enough Striker Depth?
Sporting KC will open the 2019 season with only two “true” strikers on the roster. Krizstian Nemeth is undoubtedly the first choice, with Erik Hurtado his relief/backup. As Sporting KC have stacked up on depth at numerous other positions, they still have yet to stack up on depth at the Number 9 spot. 2018 seemed to be the only year where they had the right amount of options at that position since maybe 2013. Now, the two who made the most appearances at the position in 2018 are gone.
Nemeth has yet to prove on the field that he will bring his 2015 form onto the field with him However, he’s definitely shown glimpses of it in preseason, and has led me to believe he’ll be just fine as their primary option. So for now, the search for a big time, Designated Player “Number 9” is on hold. But overall depth at the position is rightfully a concern. Erik Hurtado hasn’t scored much during his career in MLS, nor has he ever been able to break through as a regular starter. Despite the positive reports about him during preseason, they still don’t have someone else. It’s just them two, unless they’re ready to throw Tyler Freeman into the mix at 15 years old. Granted, he’s a very good, capable 15 year old. But that still doesn’t seem like the right amount of depth at the position.
The question then seems to be who would be the third striker on the roster? Is it Daniel Salloi, as much as he admits he doesn’t like playing as the main number nine? Or is it someone else, that may not be on the roster yet? They do have time to add that to the roster. Nobody seemed to be convinced of what they had at the position until August last year anyways. But a reminder, they don’t need a striker to come in and score a ton of goals. They just need someone who can do the work defensively, and help create goals. So if Nemeth and Hurtado stay healthy and in form all year long, then it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But that’s not necessarily a gamble I think Sporting KC will end up taking.
How Will the Fixture Congestion Affect Them?
Sporting KC are one of four teams in MLS that will be guaranteed to play more games than the rest. All four of them are involved in CONCACAF Champions League Play, and all four should be expected to make deep runs in the US Open Cup as well. With the MLS Schedule already shortened by a month, and the added fixture congestion from other competitions, Sporting KC have done their best to field a roster that’s at least two deep at all 11 spots on the field. I’d agree that they’ve done that, and have built out one of the deepest, if not the deepest roster in MLS. But some of that depth is also with younger guys, who have a lot to prove ahead of them.
Jaylin Lindsey, Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, and Gianluca Busio all made solid debuts during the 2018 campaign. All will be expected to contribute in some very big moments in 2019 as well. The question is whether or not they’re prepared to take a step forward and be what scouts, the club, and observers believe that they can be. They’ll be more crucial to Sporting KC’s ability to navigate the fixture congestion, than I think any of the veteran pieces will be.
The vets, by and large, will put out exactly what you expect of them every time out. The youngsters don’t quite have that ability yet. By ability, I mean the ability to have an expectation of performance, and then have the ability to meet it every time out. They’re very large variables in the Sporting KC depth chart, and whether or not they’re going to take the necessary step forward, may just be the tipping point for SKC’s depth and ability to navigate the tough schedule that awaits them in 2019.
Will the Ike Opara Trade Nip Come Back to Bite Them?
After Sporting KC traded Dom Dwyer in 2017, their goal scoring exploits took a turn for the worse, especially during the most crucial stretch of that 2017 campaign. Now, they’ve gone and trade Ike Opara. By their own accord, it was the right decision to make. A player had gone about things in a way they didn’t appreciate, and felt they could make the move out of depth, and their own vexed feelings. But, the big question here is that depth, especially at the CB position.
They’ve acquired three new center-backs since last summer, and two will for sure be expected to play a big role in the 2019 campaign. Botond Barath, and Andreu Fontas will be the ones that you’ll likely see through the campaign, as Rwandan signing, Abdul Rwatubayaye gets acclimated. With Opara on the roster, Sporting KC had three top level center backs in the league and some solid depth pieces at the position as well. Now, those solid depth pieces are going to be asked to take on a great responsibility. Graham Smith is one of those, and someone who made a major impression during the pre-season. If Smith has taken the step forward, as I’ve been told he has, then they might just have three top level center backs in the league again. But that remains to be seen, and until they prove it, it’s just another question waiting to be answered.
Sporting KC’s first match of the year comes Thursday, February 21, against Toluca during the Round of 16 in CONCACAF Champions League. They begin MLS play on March 3rd against LAFC.