Coming off a disappointing 2019 season in which they missed the postseason for the first time since 2010, Sporting Kansas City ramped things up this offseason.
A number of familiar faces left while the club welcomed the likes of Alan Pulido and continued talks of increasing the investment in the roster.
Is there increased pressure to match the investment?
“The staff, players, everybody, we’re all competitive, and no matter what year it is, we want to win.” Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com told last month. “So, we don’t think about the last year, or 10 years ago. We think about now, the present. That’s where our heads are at.”
Pulido arrived after winning the Liga MX Golden Boot and spurned opportunities to move to Monterrey or stay at Chivas. Instead he took a risk and moved to MLS, specifically Kansas City.
As Pulido took his risk, Sporting took their own with a club-record monetary investment in the Mexican international.
So how does Sporting get the best return out of their investment? Do they gameplan to Pulido’s strengths?
“Whether it was a significant amount of money or a small amount of money, it doesn’t matter,” Vermes said. “When you’re on the roster, we put the same amount of attention to detail into each and every player.”
Vermes said its also on every player to step up defensively a year after the club conceded a club-record 67 goals, two fewer than the previous two years combined.
“If you’re talking about defending, the defending of everybody on our team has to be better,” Vermes said. “It doesn’t fall on the [backline], it falls on everyone. Everyone has to be ruthless in defense. To do that, to be a team that’s good defensively, everybody has to defend when we don’t have the ball.”
Player development is another area where pressure is coming to a head for the club. As the recognizable core of the squad begins to age — Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, and Graham Zusi all will be 33 at the start of the season, young players like Gianluca Busio, Jaylin Lindsey, and a crop of young Homegrowns signed in the last three years, are going to need to start staking a claim for consistent MLS minutes.
Vermes and the club have a plan, yes. But he considers the most important part of the development a responsibility of the player.
“The player has to be intrinsically motivated,” Vermes said. “The player has to be focused and concentrated on the responsibility they have to their player development.”
One of Sporting’s most successful academy products to date has been Daniel Salloi, who had a breakout season in 2018. With high expectations to build off that success, or at least replicate it, Salloi didn’t score his first goal until the penultimate match of 2019.
Now, he’s looking to 2020 with a vengeance.
“I can connect my last year personally with [the rest of the team],” Salloi told MLSsoccer.com. “We both want to bounce back in 2020.”
What can Salloi do to rebound? According to Vermes, that work has already been done behind the scenes.
“He’s worked very hard in the offseason,” Vermes said. “He has come in here very fit. I can tell he’s very determined, very focused, and that’s it.
"He has all the qualities as a player, and that part hasn’t left him. He just has to make sure that he’s focused, concentrated, and every day that he’s here he works hard. If he does that, he’ll make his own mark.”