Fresh off a long offseason, Sporting Kansas City is gearing up for a season that has the potential to go in either direction.
Peter Vermes is entering his 12th season as manager, but it will be his first without the services of Matt Besler, who signed with Austin FC in free agency. The offseason also saw the departures of Winston Reid, Gerso, Erik Hurtado, and Felipe Gutierrez.
Among the veterans returning include Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, Ilie, and Tim Melia. Johnny Russell has also been named as the new captain following Besler’s departure.
Notable additions include a few products of the SKC Academy along with defender Nicolas Isimat-Martin and midfielder Remi Walter, both are former French youth internationals.
As Sporting finishes their final preparations for their 2021 season opener against the New York Red Bulls, let’s take a look at three things you should know.
1. SKC has new blood
SKC has offloaded some veterans like Matt Besler and Felipe Gutierrez. That doesn’t mean that they have gotten worse, especially considering Besler didn’t play once SKC got into a rhythm by the end of last season and Gutierrez missed all of last season through injury.
With the additions of Nicolas Isimat-Martin and Remi Walter, SKC will be better off. Isimat-Martin will hopefully be the answer to Sporting’s defensive vulnerabilities while Walter will add more quality to an already talented midfield. Along with that, SKC has added a couple of more players from the Academy.
2. Another big year for the kids
Last year was a big year for the kids in the midfield, but this year will be an even bigger test for the kids up top. With much uncertainty on the wings, it is certain that the Academy kids are going to need to step up this season once again.
At center forward, you have Alan Pulido’s backup, Wilson Harris, with his first real chance to make a name for himself in MLS. After scoring 23 goals in 56 games in the USL with SKC II, Harris appears to be the second-choice striker behind Alan Pulido.
Other SKC Academy additions include forward Ozzie Cisneros and playmaking midfielder Grayson Barber, who signed after spending three seasons at Clemson. With the departure of Gerso and plummeting confidence of Daniel Salloi, SKC needs someone to step in and take on the substitution roles on the wings.
3. Pulido must play
When Alan Pulido played last season he was excellent, however, he didn’t play enough. He missed about half of SKC’s games last year, mostly through injury. That needs to change this year.
The Mexican international recorded seven goals and five assists in 14 appearances in 2020, but Sporting will need to see more of him in 2021 if they can expect to contend for MLS Cup. Sporting simply wasn’t the same without Pulido on the pitch.
If Pulido does continue his injury problems, then SKC could run into some trouble with Harris as the alternative option. A healthy Pulido should easily reach the 15-goal threshold that Peter Vermes has set for him.