2020 Season Preview: Sporting KC

Sporting Kansas City missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010 last year ... but their offseason moves indicate they’re not about to let it happen again.

They’ve addressed their long-standing need at center forward with a multi-million dollar purchase that signals the club is ready to compete in this new era of MLS. However, the biggest questions — perhaps for the first time in a decade — might be about their defense.

2019 Finish

  • MLS Reg. Season: 38 points (10W-16L-8D), 11th in West / 21st overall
  • MLS Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify
  • U.S. Open Cup: Eliminated in 4th Round (vs. Minnesota United)
  • Concacaf Champions League: Eliminated in SFs (vs. Monterrey)

Star players

  • Alan Pulido — He’s a new arrival, but you’ve got to give him his due and count him as a star here. SKC paid top dollar for the reigning Liga MX scoring champion, and he will be expected to immediately deliver goals for a team that has long been wanting for production at center forward.
  • Johnny Russell — The Scottish winger has been as fun to watch as he has been productive in his two years in Kansas City. He can do it all in the attacking third, both setting up his teammates and scoring for himself (he’s had equal goal and assist totals in both seasons, 19 of each in total), and should thrive in concert with a striker as talented as Pulido.
  • Felipe Gutierrez — Gutierrez brings the “third heat” to Sporting’s attack, presenting a legitimate goalscoring option from central midfield. If he, Pulido, Russell and Gerso can get firing on all cylinders, put Sporting KC’s attack up there with the best in the league.

Extratime Analysis: Sporting KC

Key acquisitions and departures

  • IN: Alan Pulido — Brining in the Mexico international striker from Chivas Guadalajara was a major statement of intent for SKC.
  • IN: Roberto Puncec / Winston Reid — While the spotlight and expectations will largely be on Pulido up front, the 67 goals Sporting conceded in 2019 might be the most telling stat from last season. They've added two experienced defenders — including World Cup veteran and New Zealand captain Reid — to help make sure it doesn't happen again.
  • IN: Gadi Kinda — The  Ethiopia-born Israeli attacking midfielder may not be a starter on opening day, but is definitely one to keep an eye on. Don’t be surprised when you see him in a few highlight reels this season.
  • OUT: Seth Sinovic — The veteran left back will be fondly remembered for his nine years of service in Kansas City, but was ultimately supplanted as a starter by summer 2019 arrival Luis Martins.
  • OUT: Benny Feilhaber — Another well-liked veteran (and, like Sinovic, a 2013 MLS Cup winner with SKC) that was ultimately the victim of a numbers game in central midfield.
  • OUT: Krisztian Nemeth — There's little to question about his talent, but has the makings of a situation where the team was looking for a little more production and availability from a player that made a shade over $1 million guaranteed compensation in 2019, per the MLS Players Association.

Projected Starting XI

2020 Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Eric Dick, Tim Melia, John Pulskamp, Richard Sanchez
  • Defenders (10): Botond Barath, Matt Besler, Amadou Dia, Andreu Fontas, Jaylin Lindsey, Luis Martins, Roberto Puncec, Winston Reid, Graham Smith, Graham Zusi
  • Midfielders (8): Gianluca Busio, Cameron Duke, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez, Felipe Hernandez, Gadi Kinda, Ilie Sanchez, Wan Kuzain
  • Forwards (7): Gerso Fernandes, Tyler Freeman, Erik Hurtado, Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi, Khiry Shelton

Armchair Analyst: Strengths and weaknesses

  • Strength: “Put a real center forward in there and he scores 20 goals” was said more than once last year as Sporting’s cadre of No. 9s failed to finish the very good chances their system constantly built. Well, answered those calls by going out and getting the Liga MX Golden Boot winner and bringing Khiry Shelton back from the Bundesliga. They’ve also added potential starters in central midfield and central defense. They will not ship 67 goals again in 2020.
  • Weakness: While nobody should expect them to be weak defensively, the days of the smothering high press in KC are gone (too many 30-somethings and too much film for opponents to use to pick it apart), and it’s not clear this team, even with the additions, is equipped to defend well in a deeper block.

Predictions

  • Ben Baer: 5th in West
  • Marcelo Balboa (Univision): 1st in West
  • Calen Carr: 7th in West
  • Charlie Davies: 7th in West
  • Matt Doyle: 6th in West
  • Kristian Jack (TSN): 7th in West
  • Frederic Lord (TVA Sports): 2nd in West
Series: