The numbers don't lie: Khiry Shelton is an integral part of Sporting's winning formula

Khiry Shelton's recent success with Sporting Kansas City has been well-documented. The versatile 27-year-old is tied for the team lead with three regular season goals, having scored in three straight matches spanning the club's home opener on March 7 and its first two fixtures at the MLS is Back Tournament last month in Walt Disney World.

However, Manager Peter Vermes would be the first to declare that Shelton's impact goes well beyond putting the ball in the back of the net. For starters, his work rate as a winger is unmatched. Through the first five matches of the 2020 regular season, Shelton places among the league leaders in sprints per game. Among MLS forwards, he ranks third in duels won and seventh in chances created from open play.

The two-way approach to Shelton's game allows him to thrive both as the first line of defense and as a dangerous attacker in the final third. In fact, he is one of just two MLS players, alongside teammate and forward partner Alan Pulido, with at least three goals, five chances created and 30 duels won this season.

The most important stat line of all underscores Shelton's importance to Sporting Kansas City: his ability to help the team win.

Since the start of 2018, no player on Sporting's current roster boasts a better regular season winning percentage when he plays than Shelton. His 16-4-5 record in 25 Sporting appearances yields a remarkable 74% winning clip, at least 15% higher than any other player.

Granted, this factoid comes with a caveat. After helping Sporting finish atop the Western Conference standings in 2018, Shelton ventured to Germany for a 12-month stint with SC Paderborn 07. During that time, Sporting labored through most of 2019 and saw its eight-year playoff streak snapped.

Even so, the table below illustrates that Sporting typically thrives with Shelton in the mix.


<strong>WIN %</strong>
Khiry Shelton
Matt Besler
Graham Zusi
Gerso Fernandes
Roger Espinoza

Shelton started Sporting's first six matches this year in all competitions, a stretch that covered a 4-1-0 start to the regular season and a Round of 16 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the MLS is Back Tournament. He missed the quarterfinal against the Philadelphia on July 30 with a minor injury as Sporting bowed out of the competition with a 3-1 loss.

The good news is that Shelton is fully fit again, which should bode well for a Sporting side that will play 18 more league fixtures between now and Nov. 8 to round out the 23-game regular season. The Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will follow, featuring an expanded 18-team field and culminating on Dec. 12 with the 25th MLS Cup. Vermes' men presently reside at the summit of the Western Conference, one point shy of Supporters' Shield leaders Columbus Crew SC, and will aim to stay at or near the top of the pack in the weeks and months to come.

It should be noted that Shelton's impressive start in 2020 comes amidst unprecedented circumstances. In addition to navigating the all-encompassing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sporting and MLS have fully embraced the push for racial justice and equality in the U.S. Shelton, whose father is Black and mother is Caucasian, has played a major role for Sporting in the movement to create a better climate for minorities.

Needless to say, Shelton's presence at Sporting, both on and off the pitch, has benefited everyone involved. And as the club prepares for a tremendously busy stretch of games in the near future, the hope will be for that to continue.

Sporting returns to the field next Friday, Aug. 21, visiting second-place Minnesota United FC at 6:30 p.m CT. FOX Sports Kansas City Plus will provide three hours of live coverage at Allianz Field beginning at 6 p.m. CT.