Felipe Hernandez - Sporting KC vs. FC Dallas - September 19, 2020

The no. 1 offseason goal for Sporting Kansas City midfielder Felipe Hernandez wasn’t what you might think.

Sure, he wanted to improve all facets of his game while remaining fit and abiding by a comprehensive training program. What separated Hernandez from most of his Sporting teammates, however, was the importance of bulking up ahead of the 2021 season.

“I’m not too big of a guy, so that’s always going to be a challenge,” Hernandez told Soccer from the Zou podcast host Kyle Pinnell this week. “That’s why this season I wanted to focus on putting a lot more muscle on so that when I am on the field, I won’t get run over and I’ll stand up to guys.”

The talented Sporting Kansas City Academy product has punched above his weight for two MLS seasons now, and following a 2020 campaign that saw him shoulder an increased role in the center of the park, the 22-year-old could be on the brink of a major breakthrough at the MLS level.

In 2019, Hernandez became the first Sporting player to progress along the club’s full player pathway, rising from an Academy Affiliate club to the Sporting KC Academy to the Sporting KC II (then the Swope Park Rangers) before signing with the senior team.

Regularly lauded by Manager Peter Vermes for his toughness and mentality, the Colombian-born midfielder sometimes draws comparisons to teammate and veteran Roger Espinoza—which, of course, is no small compliment.

“You’re going to have bad days but your effort has got to be there,” Hernandez said on the podcast. “Every time you step on the training field, it’s got to be 100 percent. That’s something that Roger is known for—he’s a pit bull and he’s always working. He’s a great asset to the team.

“Peter has always been high on me for my work rate and kind of views me as a mini Roger. I know what that means and I know what I have to do on the field.”

Entering 2021, Hernandez is part of a loaded Sporting midfield that includes Espinoza, fellow Homegrown Player Gianluca Busio, experienced Spaniard Ilie Sanchez and newly acquired Frenchman Remi Walter, who has impressed in the early days of preseason training in Arizona.

“There’s a lot of talent in the midfield, especially with Remi coming into the team,” Hernandez said. “After three or four days, you could tell he was a quality player. For me, it’s doing what I’m best at and trying to improve that—the pressing, the defensive (responsibilities), trying to master that even more in training.”

Hernandez and Sporting will take the field Saturday for their first of four preseason friendlies highlighting the club’s 2021 preseason, presented by Children’s Mercy. Opposition will come in the form of USL Championship side Phoenix Rising FC, with kickoff slated for 12 p.m. CT at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Arizona. Supporters can follow @SKCMatchday on Twitter for live updates of the contest.