Since the turn of the new year earlier this month, Sporting Kansas City have welcomed four new players to the club’s MLS roster.
With an eye for the future, Sporting inked three Academy products to first-team contracts last week as 20-year-old midfielder Grayson Barber, 16-year-old forward Ozzie Cisneros and 18-year-old goalkeeper Brooks Thompson made the jump to MLS.
Additionally, 26-year-old veteran goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh has joined the side to add depth and compete alongside incumbent starter Tim Melia.
Barber, Cisneros, Thompson and McIntosh all visited Children’s Mercy Park last Wednesday, getting a firsthand look at the world-class venue and conducting interviews with Sporting KC sideline reporter Carter Augustine ahead of the 2021 MLS campaign
Barber grew up in South Carolina before moving to Kansas City to join the Sporting KC Academy as a 15-year-old in 2015. From that point onward, becoming an MLS player was always in his sights.
“This is a dream come true,” he said. “Ever since I was little, this has always been my goal—playing (professional) soccer. For it to finally be here, it’s just a great feeling.
“My family and I sacrificed a lot growing up, leaving home (in South Carolina). To be rewarded with this is a great feeling for me and everyone back home.”
Barber took an unconventional route toward earning his MLS contract, following up his time in the Academy by playing three seasons of college soccer at Clemson University, one of the strongest programs in the country.
“Playing at Clemson was great and being able to learn from the coaches there helped me get to where I am today,” he said. “Being able to play with a bunch of great players at Clemson also prepared me for this moment.”
Now that he’s back in Kansas City, Barber says his Sporting journey has come full circle.
“I was able to train with the first team and the second team growing up (in the Academy) and it helped me prepare for what I’m going into now. Playing in the Academy, it was always my goal to come back and play in the first team.”
Ever since joining the Academy as a 12-year-old in 2016, Cisneros has held the lofty goal of working his way into the first team. And although the U.S. youth international always believed in himself, he never thought the opportunity would arise so quickly.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be a professional,” Cisneros said. “Now that I’m doing this at the age of 16 is just an amazing feeling, really.
“When I first got here, (going pro) was a goal that I had, but I didn’t think it would come this soon. I’m very thankful that all of my hard work has made my dream come true.”
Cisneros credits his development to the coaches and teammates who have helped him improve in during his time in the Sporting KC Academy. He is also grateful for his family members back home in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Me and my family have sacrificed a lot for me to get here and I’m very thankful that they’ve all supported me. I have three older brothers, so I’m the youngest. They always tell me, ‘I’m the one who trained you, so I should get some credit.’”
Looking forward, Cisneros isn’t resting on his laurels. A lot of hard work lies ahead, and he looks forward to the challenge.
“I’m a playmaker who likes to go forward a lot. I create chances for my teammates and I’m always working my hardest on defense and offense,” he said. “I’ve been to a couple of games at Children’s Mercy Park and it’s just a beautiful stadium. I can’t wait to hopefully play there one day.”
For any given Sporting KC Academy product, no path is the same. Thompson, for instance, worked his way up the latter by starring in the Academy and then signing professionally for Sporting KC II in the USL Championship prior to reaching the first team. That experience, he says, has been invaluable.
“Coming through the system has really prepared me to play, especially at Sporting KC, because the tactics are the same from the first team all the way down to the Academy,” he said. “It’s been a really good learning experience playing (in the USL Championship) before moving up to the highest level.”
Like Barber and Cisneros, Thompson isn’t originally from Kansas City. He grew up in Indiana prior to making his way to the Sporting KC Academy and credits his family back home for helping him become the player and person he is.
“It was really good for me and my family,” Thompson said of signing an MLS deal. “They were so proud. They’ve sacrificed a lot for me and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. I keep that in mind every day while I’m training and trying to get better.”
Thompson already has two seasons of pro experience under his belt, having played an important role for Sporting KC II under head coach Paulo Nagamura. During that time, he’s grown fond of Kansas City and everything it has to offer.
“I love the city; it reminds me of my home. I love the people here and the club is absolutely fantastic,” he said. “One of the biggest goals and dreams I have is playing in front of a home crowd and feeling that atmosphere (at Children’s Mercy Park). I’ve been in the stands multiple times for the games, and it’s beautiful to say the least. I’m just excited to get out there and show (the fans) what I have.”
On Thursday, Dec. 17, McIntosh was hoping for a phone call. Stage 1 of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft was taking place and the four-year MLS veteran was without a club after ending his one-year stint with the New York Red Bulls.
As fate would have it, McIntosh received the call he was hoping for—and it was from Sporting Kansas City.
“When I found out, I was ecstatic; my family was ecstatic,” McIntosh said of being selected by Sporting in the Re-Entry Draft last month.
What has McIntosh feeling so excited? For one, he can’t wait to begin working alongside Tim Melia, one of the best goalkeepers in MLS.
“Getting to work with Tim and goalkeeper coach Alec (Dufty) and knowing how similar Tim is to me—that’s one of the things I’m most excited about. (Tim) is one of the goats, so anytime you get to work with someone like that, it’s amazing.”
McIntosh didn’t arrive in Kansas City until earlier this month, but he has already come to appreciate the city and its people. Pair that with the fact that Children’s Mercy Park offers one of the finest playing experiences in MLS, and McIntosh couldn’t be happier with his new setup.
“The culture of the city—it’s special,” he said. “It’s a special place. I’ve only been here 10 days and I can already feel how special it is. This is one of the best atmospheres in the league, and it’s awesome to be a part of that.”
Off the field, McIntosh is excited to try some Kansas City barbeque and encourages fans to give him any and all recommendations about places to visit. As for his goals on the field, he aims to contribute valuably to a team that has solidified itself as a title contender.
“It’s always great to feel wanted and to feel like you’re a part of the team from day one,” he said. “There’s so much of your career where you’re focused on (yourself). I think this is a really important time for me to support Tim and support the team. It’s really about winning trophies, and I want to bring trophies to the city.”