No disrespect to old age and treachery, but Oriol Rosell's brand of youth and skill in the Sporting Kansas City defensive midfield is showing solid early returns.
It wasn't just Rosell's game-winning goal in Sporting's season opener, a 3-1 victory over Philadelphia this past Saturday, that impressed manager Peter Vermes. It was everything else the 20-year-old Spaniard, installed as veteran Júlio César's replacement this year after joining Sporting in the middle of the 2012 season, did on and off the ball during his full-90 outing.
“He was good in possession,” Vermes said at Tuesday's weekly press conference. “His speed of play was good. He scored on a set piece. All in all, I think he was very, very good. I think as the game went on, he actually got stronger.”
Going through a full preseason regime helped him get better acclimated with the club, Rosell told reporters after the match.
“I feel really good,” he said. “When you start the year with the preseason, it's good because we can train together and keep going. The road is very long and we need to keep going and working.”
Júlio César (who has since signed with Sporting Kansas City's next opponent, Toronto FC) often played as a de facto extra center back for Sporting, positioning himself to break up opposing attacks before they could reach the back line. Rosell, 14 years younger than his predecessor, offers more mobility and crisp ballhandling skills – and his game knowledge more than makes up for his relative lack of MLS experience, Vermes said.
“He's got a great soccer brain,” Vermes said. “It's not age. It's that he has a really good understanding of how to play that position, and what the responsibilities are when we have the ball and when we don't have the ball, and when we have the ball in certain situations, where he has to be. He's very good at anticipating things.”
Rosell showed that off in the opener, when he raced in unmarked on Graham Zusi's 66th-minute free kick and headed it in to put Sporting up 2-1.
“Rosell made a great early run into the six-yard box,” Zusi said. “Those are tough for the 'keeper to deal with, to make a decision on whether to come or stay.”
But as good as Rosell was in the opener, Vermes said on Saturday, he is still in the adjustment stage of his Sporting career.
“When you bring someone in, everyone is like, ‘The guy's gotta do it,” he told reporters. “But we have patience with him. It’s going to take him a little time to adjust to the league and to our team, and you don’t really get any experience playing in MLS until you play in MLS. He still has a lot to understand on how and what we want from him at his individual position, and how it ultimately affects the collective.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.