Jimmy Medranda hopes to continue upward trajectory in 2017

If 2016 was his breakout, could 2017 be his blockbuster?

Defender Jimmy Medranda burst onto the scene last year, becoming a regular starter for the first time in his young career while adding flair to a Sporting Kansas City side that wound up in the playoffs for a sixth straight MLS campaign.

The diminutive Colombian, still just 22 years old, now enters his fifth season in Kansas City with hopes of taking yet another big step in his progression as a player. Manager Peter Vermes is bullish on Medranda doing just that in 2017 — and from a variety of spots on the pitch.

“Jimmy can play almost anywhere on the field, except for probably goalkeeper and central defender,” Vermes said ahead of the club’s 2017 preseason training camp in Tucson, Arizona.

“When I look at our team heading into the new season, Jimmy is going to be a great asset. He can play as an outside back, he can play multiple spots in the midfield, and he has the speed and technique to be an excellent attacking player. He is capable of scoring goals, tracking back and keeping possession. So he will help us in a variety of ways.”

Vermes’ optimism is easy to understand. In 2016, Medranda started 22 of 28 regular season contests with one goal and two assists in 1939 minutes — all career highs — from the left back position.

A deeper dig into the stats would suggest that Medranda was one of the most effective fullbacks in Major League Soccer over the course of the year. He led MLS with 3.5 tackles won per 90 minutes played — an indicator of his defensive prowess — but also ranked fourth among defenders with 22 successful crosses from open play, which illustrates his penchant for attacking effectively down the wings.

Medranda’s statistical output was formally recognized in August when the MLS Audi Player Index named him the second best left back in the league.

“Once Jimmy got acclimated to our culture and our team, we started to see just how valuable he could be for us,” Vermes said. “Last year he became more comfortable and more confident, and we saw that in the way he approached each game. He was very good last year, and we are very excited about the season ahead with him.”

Medranda’s burgeoning confidence was sometimes easy to see. His slick footwork and dazzling ball skills — particularly with his patented left foot — frequently drew oohs, ahs and applause from supporters at Children’s Mercy Park.

“I feel like I grew a lot as a player last year, and it was great to play a lot of games in front of our fans,” said Medranda, who recently signed a new Sporting KC contract through 2019 with an option for 2020. “Now we are ready for preseason and ready to improve as a team. I will do whatever I can to help the team win trophies.”

Although Medranda may have caught supporters and opponents by surprise last year, many of his teammates and coaches saw his breakout coming. After all, Medranda has been with the club since August 2013 when he arrived from Deportivo Pereira in his native Colombia.

“When Jimmy joined us, you could tell that he had great potential,” Sporting KC forward Dom Dwyer said. “He has always been a brilliant player — it was just a matter of him acclimating to the physical style of MLS and adjusting to the way we play as a team. I think he’s definitely made that leap now.”