Versatile Medranda shows worth for Sporting KC with latest position switch

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – How many breakout seasons can Jimmy Medranda string together? That might depend on how many positions Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes decides to use him in.

“He’s always had really big potential, and he’s progressed year after year,” Vermes said of the young Colombian, who has become a fixture in the XI after spending two years adjusting to Sporting’s fitness demands. “We always knew the quality was there. It was just, ‘When’s it all going to come together?’ And it is, last season and now this season. He’s really adding a lot to the team.”

After moving to left back in 2016 and recording career highs of 28 appearances and 22 starts, Medranda has become Vermes’ first choice on the right wing in 2017. He has made five starts there so far this year, with two more starts in an attacking midfielder role when playmaker Benny Feilhaber was out with a hamstring strain.

That’s seven starts in seven matches for the 23-year-old, now in his fifth MLS season, and with each one Medranda’s confidence keeps growing – and so does his teammates’ confidence in him.

Versatile Medranda shows worth for Sporting KC with latest position switch -

“You still haven’t seen the best of him, either,” center forward Dom Dwyer told reporters on Wednesday. “He’s still kind of finding his way. He’s played quite a few different positions. So he’s getting into the flow of things. He’s a very talented player, another good left foot. The next part of his game is to add some goals to it.”

Medranda is just happy to be a regular contributor anywhere on the pitch – though he does acknowledge that winger is his preferred spot.

“It’s the position that I played all my life, so I feel more comfortable,” he said. “But when I play left back, I feel good too. Wherever they put me, I will respond with the same effort.”

That’s the sort of attitude and versatility Vermes – who rates Medranda and right back Graham Zusi as the two most versatile players he’s ever managed – prizes. And, not coincidentally, it was Zusi’s move from right wing to fullback this season that opened the way for Medranda.

“Jimmy’s just a good soccer player,” center back and captain Matt Besler said. “He understands the game. He understands the areas of the field that he can find himself to be most effective. He has something on the ball that a lot of players don’t have: his ability to cut and to keep the ball in tight areas of the field, which has been very valuable for us.”

Versatile Medranda shows worth for Sporting KC with latest position switch -

Zusi’s move was only one reason for Medranda’s shift to the veteran’s old spot, though. Another big reason, Medranda said, was learning to relax and not try too hard.

“I wasn’t starting with the team, so I wanted to show Peter – you want to do more, and when you don’t play relaxed, it doesn’t play in your favor,” he said. “But I kept working and Peter gave me the confidence, and I think I’m responding.”

Medranda also has shown increasingly spot-on distribution skills – especially with his left foot in an inverted or crossover role – as he continues to jell with left winger Gerso Fernandes and center forward Dwyer.

Everything came together two weeks ago in a 1-0 away victory over the Portland Timbers, when Medranda took a pass from Feilhaber and whipped in a spot-perfect cross that Dwyer – under heavy marking – headed in for the match-winner against the Supporters’ Shield leaders.

“That was a very difficult ball, and he put it right on my head,” Dwyer said. “A lot of guys would just shoot it from there, so credit to him for putting that ball in there.”

Midfielder Roger Espinoza, who has become a mentor to Medranda, said the Colombian's continued emergence and increasing importance – in two quite different areas of the pitch – is both a credit to the player and to the club that first brought him in on loan from Colombian side Deportivo Pereira as a 19-year-old prospect in August 2013.

“I would say if young players want to wind up at a club, this would be the perfect club," Espinoza said. "They worry about the players they bring in. They want you to play. They want you to get experience. Jimmy’s one of them. They developed him here since a very young age, and it’s because the club is like that that kids go, ‘The club cares about me, and I’m going to take responsibility.’”

And, Vermes said, Medranda likely will be asked to take even more responsibility as his career progresses – as he was when Feilhaber had to sit out with hamstring tightness.

“I think [winger is] a good place for him, but I still think he’s a good midfielder,” Vermes said. “He’s done very well for us there. He was great in those games. The only thing there is that it’s a little bit different gas tank, and that’s what he’s still trying to build there.”