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.
Rookie Grayson Barber took an unconventional route toward his dream of reaching the Sporting Kansas City first team. The South Carolina native spent three years in the Sporting KC Academy, but instead of jumping straight to the pro ranks, he detoured to Clemson University for a prolific three-year college stint before circling back to Sporting at the start of 2021. Although the 20-year-old has yet to play in a professional match, there is plenty to suggest that Barber will make an impact this year and beyond.
At the age of 15, Barber left home in Elgin, South Carolina, to join the Sporting KC Academy, where he starred from 2015-2017. The attacking midfielder scored over 20 league goals at the U-16 and U-18 levels and was named to the 2017 United Soccer Coaches Youth Boys All-America Team. He then transitioned to the college game, leading Clemson to an ACC title as a junior last fall after guiding the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals as a sophomore in 2019.
The 2020 NCAA Division I college soccer season was shortened due to the pandemic, but Barber made the most of his junior campaign by leading the nation with seven assists in addition to scoring twice. Clemson won the 2020 ACC Championship as the Tigers were tabbed No. 1 in the final United Soccer Coaches poll of the year.
Like several other Sporting KC Academy products who are short on professional experience, Barber could see playing time with Sporting KC II under head coach Paulo Nagamura in the USL Championship. However, he will have every opportunity to earn his place within the first team as one of the country’s best college players over the last two seasons.
In three seasons at Clemson, Barber amassed 13 goals and 18 assists in 49 appearances, including 10 goals and nine assists during a standout sophomore campaign that resulted in All-ACC Second Team honors.
He Said It
“I’ll always remember Grayson being an incredibly competitive player here in our academy. Then he went to a very good program at Clemson and we kept an eye on him. (Technical Director) Brian Bliss and I were looking at game film of his and I said, ‘Man, he’s taken his game to another level.’ I can see his skillset having an impact in MLS.”
Sporting Manager Peter Vermes when Barber signed for Sporting in January.
Did You Know?
Last fall, Barber and Clemson were crowned winners of the ACC Championship with victories over Virginia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest. He set a tournament record with four assists across the three matches.