As momentum builds toward Major League Soccer’s 26th season in 2021, Sporting Kansas City players and coaches will look to lay the foundations for another successful campaign when preseason training unfolds this month in Arizona.
With newcomers joining familiar faces for the 2021 preseason presented by Children’s Mercy, SportingKC.com has launched the “Sporting Preseason Spotlight” web series to acquaint supporters with the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards who will help Sporting Kansas City compete for silverware in 2021. To read up on every player and visit the series archive as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/Spotlight.
Over the course of his first three seasons at Sporting Kansas City, center back Graham Smith has shown glimpses of being on the cusp of a breakout. Could this be the year? The 6-foot-4 defender has all the tools to be an elite MLS defender and will view the 2021 campaign as an opportunity show he is capable of exactly that.
Smith has amassed over 60 professional appearances since joining Sporting out of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. Two-thirds of those have come at the USL Championship level with Sporting Kansas City II, where he has excelled under head coach Paulo Nagamura. Another 21 appearances have come with the first team, including six last year and 12 in 2019. Smith has also played sparingly in the defensive midfield position, underscoring his excellent ability to play with the ball at his feet.
Smith split his four-year college career between Oregon State University (2014-15) and the University of Denver (2016-17). The versatile defender started all 80 appearances at the NCAA Division I level, registering six goals and seven assists in his final two seasons with the Denver Pioneers.
Smith burst onto the 2020 scene at the MLS is Back Tournament, starting in Sporting's 2-0 group stage win over Real Salt Lake and subsequent knockout stage contests against Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the Philadelphia Union. The defender impressed enough to carry his starting role into the late summer as MLS action returned to home markets. Sporting lost just once in the six matches Smith started across all competitions.
Smith entered the 2021 preseason camp in excellent shape, winning one of the team's early fitness tests. His work rate and determination to thrive at the MLS level could go a long way in vaulting the defender to new heights in the weeks and months to come.
Among MLS players with at least 450 pass attempts in 2019, Smith ranked fifth in the league with a passing accuracy of 92.0%.
He Said It
"It's your job and your profession to be ready, even when you're not being called upon in the moment. You want to make sure you're best prepared as possible for when those opportunities do come to showcase yourself. And then you hope that leads to results for the team."
Smith after his impressive performances at the MLS is Back Tournament last July.
Did You Know?
Smith was a youth standout player at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, where he just so happened to play alongside current Sporting defender Amadou Dia.