If he wants to hold that MLS Cup high in hand in 2011, Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes has some big decisions to make in the coming days and weeks.
19 days. Wake up, go to work, go to bed, do it all over again - 19 more times. That's what we have to do before we finally, at long last, reach Major League Soccer First Kick 2011. That night, Seattle Sounders will play host to Los Angeles Galaxy in the league's annual national spotlight, mid-week game to kickoff the season. Sporting Kansas City, as well as fans of the other 16 MLS clubs, will have to wait four more days until their team begins its 2011 campaign.
March 19. That's the day that we, as fans, are all looking ahead to; the day Sporting KC takes on Chivas USA. That's 23 days away. That means that in about two weeks time, we will begin to see and hear much about a finalized 30-man roster to begin the season. Technical director/head coach Peter Vermes probably has a pretty good idea as to who will occupy spots 1 through 22-ish or maybe even 25. Where the real battles lie are at the very end of the roster - spots 25 through 30.
For starters, this post will operate under the assumption that many, if not all, players still with the team from last year will make the team. Players like Jimmy Conrad and Josh Wolff were allowed to move on after last season, because they didn't fit into the team's long-term plans. If a player is still around at this point in 2011, I assume that is the case for a reason.
We won't waste any time and get right into it after the jump...
First, we will look at the players that are either shoo-ins to make the team, or players that you can pretty confidently say will make the team.
Likely On The Team
|GK - Jimmy Nielsen||M - Craig Rocastle|
|GK - Eric Kronberg||M - Jack Jewsbury|
|GK - Jon Kempin||M - Graham Zusi|
|D - Michael Harrington||M - Luke Sassano|
|D - Roger Espinoza||F - Ryan Smith|
|D - Shavar Thomas||F - Teal Bunbury|
|D - Matt Besler||F - Kei Kamara|
|D - Kevin Ellis||F - Omar Bravo|
|D - Korede Aiyegbusi||F - C.J. Sapong|
|M - Davy Arnaud||F - Birahim Diop|
|M - Stephane Auvray||Total - 21|
It is pretty clear who will make up much of the starting eleven - Nielsen, Harrington, Thomas, Espinoza, Auvray, Arnaud, Smith, Kamara, Bravo. The second centerback spot is, by all accounts, still unsettled. Depending on the formation that Vermes decides to play, the other midfield place could go one of any number of ways. Charles Gooch at the KC Star had a great piece on Thursday that outlined many of Vermes' tactical and formation options. (For the record, I tend to agree with Gooch that the pieces of the puzzle are starting to shift away from fitting the 4-3-3 that was used last year.)
We also know that with Kempin, being only 17 still, Kronberg will be the backup goalkeeper, and that both should get varying amounts of playing time in the reserve league. Either way, both are on the team. Ellis was just signed last week as a homegrown player, so he's already got the contract; he's on the team. According to team president Robb Heineman, Besler was one of the most oustanding players during Wednesday's intra-squad scrimmage. He also looked lively the first week of preseason training when the team was in town. He'll figure into the fight for centerback. For no other reason that his work rate is something that must catch Vermes' eye, the 2010 second round pick Aiyegbusi will be around for another season. That puts us at 14 solid picks so far.
Rocastle and Jewsbury, in my mind, are fighting for the third central midfield spot, should Vermes stick with the 4-3-3. The loser of that battle, though, will certainly figure into the gameday eighteen regularly. Zusi looks to be the one midfield player that can consistently provide a bit of width from the midfield, so given that he has that ability, he makes the team along with Sassano, who can play a number of spots on the field in the back half.
Bunbury and Bravo will be counted on to combine for 15 to 20 goals, so they will be integral parts of the offense. Sapong was the first round draft pick and Vermes has said that they are working diligently to get a contract done, so count him in, too. The only player of the 21 that I had a hard time convincing myself of was Diop. Maybe it's because my view of him is clouded, thanks to his performances late last year. I'm still not convinced he's a forward, but Vermes seems to like him, so he's probably on the team. As I said, we're at 21 now.
On to the players that have, based on reports and/or firsthand information, impressed this preseason and look to be nailing down a spot on the team.
|Nearly On The Team|
|D -Daneil Cyrus|
|D - Julio Cesar Santos|
|M - Chance Myers|
|F - Adda Djeziri|
Total - 4 (25)
There's a lot of international flavor here, huh? Cyrus, Santos and Djeziri are all trialists that were brought in this preseason.
According to Vermes, there was a mutually agreed upon deal with Santos before he came in. The idea was that while the deal was agreed upon, he would train with the team in preseason and if both parties saw fit, he would officially sign and join the team. Given the availability of one centerback starting spot, and the fact that Thomas will miss up to a month for the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer, Santos should feel pretty safe that the club side wants him.
Cyrus is a player that really excites me when I think about the future. He's extremely young (20), still pretty raw, but experienced enough to the point (13 starts with the senior Trinidad & Tobago national team) that he could contribute by late on in 2011 after a short adjustment period in the reserve league. I outlined Cyrus' credentials to this point after it was made public he would be trialling with the team. He potentially has the chance to become a player for years to come in Kansas City.
From the very first day of preseason training when the team was in town, Djeziri was someone that caught my own eye, along with everyone else in attendance, as "a real player." Should Vermes choose to operate out of a 4-3-3 formation again in 2011, Djeziri fits the left forward/winger position to a T; perhaps more so that the exciting Ryan Smith, because of their differing skill sets where Smith likes to dribble and cross the ball often, and Adda is more adept as scoring from his very forward position. The big (6-feet-3) Algerian will serve as great cover for Smith, should he miss any time due to his knee injury that is beginning to draw itself out now, and as a more than capable backup if/when he is healthy.
The one random in there that might make some people scratch their heads is Myers. After three years with the club, he has yet to live up to the expectation of a first overall draft pick, which he was in 2008. He looked well on his way to a breakout year in 2010 after a great preseason, but and injury the week before the first game kept him out of the starting lineup, Kamara took his place, went on to score 10 goals and the rest is history. Throw in the fact that 2009's first round pick was Bunbury, a forward, 2010's first round pick was a forward, Sapong, the team signed a forward, Bravo, as a designated player, and you start to see the way Myers' name is being pushed down the leaderboard, so to speak. He's probably still on the team for another year, but to contribute, he'll likely need to hope Vermes goes away from the 4-3-3 and picks a system that needs a wide right player in the midfield. Maybe he could beat out Zusi for that spot. 25 of 30 roster spots now accounted for.
It's down to the nitty-gritty now; we've got another ten players all vying for the last five spots on the roster.
|Trying To Make The Team|
|D - Omar Colley|
|D - Mike Jones|
|D - Scott Lorenz|
|M - Milos Stojcev|
|M - Michal Mravec|
|M - Konrad Warzycha|
|F - Travis Bowen|
Total - 10 (30 +5)
Quite a lot more international flavor in this group, too, huh? Now is where those valuable MLS international roster slots that we talked about on Monday will hugely come into play. At this point in the exercise, there are currently 8 international roster slot players that I am counting as on the team. Thankfully, the team made a trade with DC United before last season and acquired a ninth slot, one above the league standard. So, of the six internationals above, we can take one of them. (Note: Warzycha is out for 6 to 8 months, but I left him on the list in case the event the team wants to retain his rights until next year.)
More than likely, these final five players that make the team will be stashed away from the other teams in the league, most will not see first-team football in 2011, but thanks to the return of the reserve league, will get a chance to play some in the upcoming year.
I won't sit here and pretend to know a ton about each of these players and/or their prospects of making the team. I've about three of them take part in some 8-v-8 competition three weeks ago, and that's the extent of that. The point of this exercise was to merely outline the situation at hand and lay out who stands where, when possible. Based on the above information, it seems Sporting KC will be turning away a handful of quality players this year, because there are simply just too many to take all of them.
I wouldn't say that's a terrible problem to have, though now, would you?