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 last four seasons, holding midfielder Ilie Sanchez has contributed invaluably to a Sporting Kansas City side that has consistently punched among the MLS heavyweights. Broadly speaking, he plays every minute of just about every match. He’s extremely close with his teammates, keeps strong ties with his family in Spain and has warmly embraced life in the United States. With an infectious personality and an innate ability to lead by example, Ilie is a fan favorite in the truest form.
Since joining Sporting in 2017, Ilie has amassed 10 goals and 13 assists in 138 competitive matches. An ever-present fixture in the lineup, he predicates his game on precise passing, impeccable positioning and technical quality. The skillful No. 6, who was named a 2018 MLS All-Star, has been a big reason that Sporting has won a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and finished atop the Western Conference on two occasions since his arrival.
A native of Barcelona, Ilie developed in FC Barcelona's famous La Masia academy and began his professional career with the club's B team. He regularly captained Barcelona B during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons before experiencing year-long stints with 1860 Munich in the German second division and Elche in the Spanish second division. Sporting wanted to sign Ilie as early as 2015, but they were made to wait until the beginning of 2017 to bring their prize No. 6 to Kansas City.
The 2020 campaign was one of extreme hardship for Ilie. In addition to navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the midfielder missed a significant period of time while in Spain visiting his father, who passed away from cancer last fall. Ilie was nevertheless dependable as ever during his time on the pitch, starting 17 of 19 appearances in the all-important defensive midfield spot. Sporting boasted a .700 winning percentage in games Ilie played but only a .500 winning percentage when he did not.
A loaded midfield corps will see Ilie compete for playing time against the likes of 18-year-old Gianluca Busio and newly acquired 25-year-old Frenchman, both of whom are capable of playing in the No. 6 position. Neither player specializes in the role quite like Ilie, however, and if the Spaniard plays to his potential in 2021, he's a safe bet to be a constant presence on Manager Peter Vermes' team sheet.
No player has more competitive appearances for Sporting since the start of 2017 than Ilie's 138. Over the last four regular seasons, he ranks second in MLS with 6,236 successful passes.
He Said It
“I feel so much love and support here. And it’s not just at Children’s Mercy Park or at the training facilities. I feel this around the city. Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand why they have good words, even when we are (struggling) as a team. I have been here (a long time) and I have never heard anyone say a bad thing to me or about the team. It is all love.”
Ilie remarking on the love and support he feels as a member of Sporting Kansas City.
Did You Know?
During his five-year stint with Barcelona B from 2009-2014, Ilie regularly trained alongside the legendary Lionel Messi and his famous teammates—namely Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Alexis Sanchez and Neymar as well as Spanish World Cup winners Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa.