KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A lot of things have happened to Uri Rosell since he arrived in Kansas City a little more than a year ago.
He's celebrated his 21st birthday, learned English, applied to college – and emerged as a savvy, durable, technically gifted player who has become a key part of Sporting Kansas City's midfield corps and is poised on the brink of stardom.
“Uri's a winner in everything that he does, and that's all he's concerned about,” manager Peter Vermes said on Wednesday during the club's weekly news conference. “He leaves everything on the field every single game, and that's a really hard quality to come by in what we do.”
Still, it took a while for Rosell to get his shot at showing those qualities. After joining the club in early August from FC Barcelona's B team, the young Spanish defensive midfielder understudied veteran Júlio César for most of the rest of the 2013 regular season before showing his breakout potential in the home leg of Sporting's first-round playoff defeat to Houston.
“The five, six months he was here, he had a chance to see the game in MLS, watch the different teams play and get a feel for it as opposed to being thrown to the lions right away,” Vermes said. "It's nice when you have the ability to bring a guy along, so he's got some ability to build into it.”
With Júlio César waived in the offseason, the job became Rosell's to lose – and he has held onto it tenaciously since the beginning of the year. And while the observation period helped, there's no substitute for match experience.
“This [observation] is important, but the most important part is when you play, you get these things,” he said on Wednesday. “Every game, you improve more, you improve more, and you know how the league is.”
Rosell has started 24 of 25 matches, the exception being a one-match suspension for caution accumulation, and leads Kansas City's outfield players in minutes with 2,069 going into Friday night's match at Chicago (8:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network). He's also the league leader in interceptions with 102, after adding some weight to his frame to deal with MLS' more physical style.
Coming up through the Barça academy system, Rosell said, “I didn't use to have to do these things, because we had a lot more of the possession – but I like how we play here.”
Rosell's adaptation to Sporting's style shows both his focus and a wise-beyond-his-years grasp of the game, and that shows in his interception numbers.
“He's very good at that. I didn't know he was as good at that as he is,” Vermes said. “He's good one-on-one as well as reading the passing lanes.”
And Rosell is only going to keep getting better.
“I think with him there's a lot of upside,” he said. “A lot of upside in different aspects of his game. One that he's really, really taking to is the fact that he can play multiple games and recover and play, recover and play. That's something you've really got to be able to do in this league.”
- Get more Sporting Kansas City news at SportingKC.com
And despite Sporting's crowded schedule, Rosell hopes to be loading even more onto his plate this fall. He has applied to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he wants to study business.
It wouldn't be the first time he's juggled the demands of football and higher education, though.
“I did two years in university when I was playing with Barça B,” he said. “It's complicated because you train a lot, you travel a lot and when you are at home you want to rest. But if your mentality is good and you want to study, and you want to be something after soccer, you have to do it. And I'm happy because I will do it here.”
Vermes has no problem with Rosell attempting the balancing act. In fact, he wouldn't mind if other players followed his lead.
“I think he's just very focused,” Vermes said. “He's just focused on what he's doing. He's very enthusiastic, very passionate about the game. He realizes that being a professional is his life. The side aspect is that he wants to continue to educate himself as a person. So I think it's a great combination of the two. I think more guys should do that than the other, instead of going home and playing video games all day.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.