Know Your Enemy

Know Your Enemy: Sporting Kansas City


It says a lot about how long Peter Vermes has been in control in Sporting Kansas City, and about how that control helps him build a roster, that the club was able to sell Ike Opara in the offseason, lose Andreu Fontas to injury in week one, and still feel fairly secure in back with new signing Botond Barath entering for his first minutes.

KC is, once again, deep and talented in 2019. They finished first in the Western Conference a year ago and added a motivated Kelyn Rowe to a midfield that amplifies the power of creatively-inclined players that can't quite hang at the No. 10 spot. With Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi returning after stellar seasons up top and Graham Zusi continuing to be an offensive stud at right back, Vermes' team is going to provide a difficult first road test for the Union this weekend.

That said, Jim Curtin put together a stunning home victory over Kansas City last season while deploying numerous players that had gathered few minutes throughout the rest of the season. As his team prepared for the US Open Cup final, Curtin drew on names such as Jay Simpson and debutante Olivier Mbaizo, and both came through in big ways. Curtin neutralized KC's dynamic midfield and that led to gaps in the visitors' normally-tight defensive shape. Simpson took advantage and the Union walked away 2-0 winners.

Aside from Opara -- sold to Minnesota United -- and striker Diego Rubio -- traded to Colorado as part of a three-team deal that landed Rowe -- Sporting KC stood relatively pat this offseason. Non-scoring striker Khiry Shelton, immobile but dangerous left foot Brad Evans, and possible X-Man Colton Storm all departed to little fanfare while Rowe and Barath were joined by non-scoring striker Erik Hurtado, non-scoring winger Rodney Wallace, and young Rwandan center back Abdul Rwatubyaye at the arrivals gate.

Setting a central defender of Opara's level aside is by no means minor thing. When healthy, the Wake Forest product is one of the league's best, and Fontas' injury against LAFC last weekend will test a defense that rivaled Seattle as the best in the league a year ago. Losing Rubio is one of those moves that could fall either way. Yes, the wee striker scored eight goals in 2018, but he did it on, according to AmericanSoccerAnalysis, 3.7 Expected Goals. Additionally, Rubio didn't provide the creative presence that Russell and Salloi brought up top, adding only 18 key passes (passes that lead to shots, whether or not they go in).

This season

After taking a casual stroll over the stunned husks of Toluca in Concacaf Champions League (5-0 winners on aggregate), KC gave up a last gasp winner to LAFC in their opening match of the season. That road game was a difficult first test, and Vermes' men will look forward to returning to Children's Mercy Park for their home opener. Before that, however, Sporting must travel to Panama to face the Independiente side that sucker punched Toronto FC and sent last season's CCL finals' losers home early. That Wednesday matchup means KC will be doing a lot of travel prior to the Union's arrival, and an aggressive Union side could find some tired legs to feast on if they get at their hosts early.

Additionally, Roger Espinoza's childish red card against LAFC means Vermes' best all-around midfielder will be absent this Sunday, providing Philly with a real chance to pick up road points in their first trip of the year.

Quick notes

  • KC lost Andreu Fontas to injury and Roger Espinoza to a red card in their Week 1 match vs LAFC
  • A midweek CCL matchup against Independiente means KC will travel to Panama before returning home for Sunday's game against the Union
  • KC sold Ike Opara and traded Diego Rubio in the offseason, bringing in Kelyn Rowe and Botond Barath as key new pieces.