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.
Don’t let the diminutive frame of Felipe Hernandez fool you. The 22-year-old 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, Hernandez could be on the brink of a major breakthrough at the MLS level.
A first-team contributor since August of 2019, Hernandez has scrapped and grinded and persevered to get to this point. 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.
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.
In three full seasons with Sporting KC II from 2017 to 2019, Hernandez has amassed 13 goals and a club-record 11 assists across 83 USL Championship matches as an all-action midfielder who facilitated the attack but also made life miserable on opponents when they had the ball.
Born in Ibague, Colombia, Hernandez grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and played youth soccer for Sporting Nashville Heroes, a former Academy Affiliate of the Sporting Club Network. He moved to Kansas City in the summer of 2014 to join the Sporting KC Academy and flourished into a key contributor at the U-16 and U-18 levels. He inked a pro contract with Sporting KC II in 2017, the same year he joined the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team for a training camp in London.
Hernandez appeared in 19 of Sporting’s last 21 matches in all competitions last season, starting eight. His first opportunity didn’t come until the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida last July, but he took full advantage with a strong substitute performance in a 2-0 win against Real Salt Lake and never looked back. He notably started seven straight games from Aug. 29 to Oct. 3 and remained a valuable asset well into the fall, helping Sporting to first place in the West.
Hernandez has no shortage of competition in the midfield, but his versatility could translate into even more minutes in 2021. Capable of playing as a deep-lying No. 6, a box-to-box No. 8 or a playmaking No. 10, he will effectively compliment the likes of Ilie Sanchez, Remi Walter, Gianluca Busio and Roger Espinoza.
In 2020, Hernandez ranked among the top third of MLS midfielders in pressures, blocks, touches and clearances on a per-90-minutes basis.
He Said It
“Ever since I joined the Academy, Roger was one of the first guys trying to talk to me and welcome me to the team—just trying to make me feel comfortable. A few days ago, he told me, ‘There’s no one else in this world who plays the same position as you do who will tell you as much as I do. I tell you everything to do, you do it, and it puts you on the field.’ He’s always been a nice guy and a great teammate.”
Did You Know?
Last season marked the first time that Hernandez has played as a defensive midfielder. He began training at that position ahead of the MLS is Back Tournament and made a strong impression on Vermes, who used Hernandez in that spot periodically for the rest of the year.