As Sporting Kansas City prepares for its 26th season as a charter member of Major League Soccer, SportingKC.com is rolling out a 26-day countdown to the start of the 2021 campaign. A mouthwatering opening weekend of MLS action will see Sporting Kansas City visit the New York Red Bulls at 7 p.m. CT on April 17, giving supporters their first look at Manager Peter Vermes’ side since last December.
The 2021 Preseason Countdown, presented by Children’s Mercy, serves as the comprehensive, go-to preview of everything that awaits Sporting Kansas City in the weeks and months to come. From key storylines and bold predictions to statistical breakdowns and players to watch, the 2021 Preseason Countdown highlights the many reasons to be excited for what’s ahead. To visit the series homepage as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/2021countdown.
With a month of preseason training in Arizona complete, Sporting Kansas City has returned home for an additional two weeks of preparation leading up to a highly anticipated season opener at the New York Red Bulls on April 17.
Manager Peter Vermes' side took the field for four exhibition contests during their time in Arizona, posting a 2-1-1 record as playing time was evenly dispersed among a squad of almost 30 players.
Among the many preseason adages is the fact that we shouldn't draw grand conclusions about performances and results. But will that prevent us from examining five takeaways from Sporting's friendly matches in the desert? It certainly will not.
In the space below, we discuss five narratives that emerged during Sporting's four-week stay in Arizona.
1. Busio blossoming
The 18-year-old wonder kid made a statement earlier this year when he became Sporting's new No. 10. It wasn't a jersey number that fell into Busio's lap, either. He wanted the number and the increased expectations that came with it.
The next step, then, is walking the walk after talking the talk. Busio did exactly that over the course of four preseason starts. He scored two goals, including a wonder strike in a 1-0 win over the LA Galaxy on Saturday, and was one of Sporting's chief conductors from the midfield position. Stuff like this is precisely why there's a palpable buzz around the cerebral youngster.
2. The kids can play
By kids, of course, we mean the talented and ever-growing crop of Sporting Kansas City Academy products. Busio obviously fits the bill here, but several other Homegrowns and Academy standouts turned eyes during the preseason.
For starters, forward Wilson Harris scored a team-leading four goals, including a hat-trick in a 4-0 defeat of Phoenix Rising FC on March 13. Right back Jaylin Lindsey joined Busio in starting all four games. Kaveh Rad, a 19-year-old currently under contract with Sporting KC II, started three of four appearances in central defense. Midfielders Cam Duke and Jake Davis recorded assists. Kayden Pierre, an 18-year-old outside back who has yet to sign a professional contract, showed superb flashes as well.
Sporting has an all-time high 10 Academy products on its current roster. We shouldn't be surprised if that number grows over the course of 2021.
3. Fontas in form
Andreu Fontas arrived at Sporting in the late summer of 2018 with no shortage of pedigree. The former FC Barcelona center back boasted a wealth of experience in Spain's La Liga and looked to be a coy midseason pickup when he joined the team.
Unfortunately for Fontas, his first two and a half seasons in MLS have been hampered by injuries. The Spaniard recovered from a long-term achilles ailment last fall, however, and impressed during the stretch run of the 2020 regular season. He has drawn the praise of Vermes in recent weeks and with four solid preseason starts under his belt, Fontas could be poised for a major bounce back.
4. French reliance
In order for Sporting to be the best version of itself this season, French newcomers Remi Walter and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin will have to live up to their preseason billings. Walter looked sharp in his three starts, while Isimat-Mirin was limited to a 45-minute outing against LA on Saturday after joining the team late and undergoing a quarantine period.
Walter, a central midfielder, and Isimat-Mirin, a center back, address some of the positional needs Sporting was faced with at the end of 2020. If they hit it off this year, Vermes' side will win a lot of games.
5. Still work to do
With less than two weeks until opening weekend, Sporting players are still working toward full fitness. No one logged the full 90 minutes in any of the four preseason matches and a handful of potential starts have either picked up knocks or, in Graham Zusi's case, are working their way back from injury.
"We need to get some type of match fitness, and I’m talking about Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido, Gadi Kinda, Graham Zusi, Daniel Salloi," Vermes said after Saturday's preseason win over LA. "All of those guys weren’t available to play today, so we’re trying to get them fit. That’s going to be an important aspect. Johnny turned his ankle a few days back and we’re working through that at the moment. Kinda will be back in training next week. Zusi is back running. They’re all working towards it and it’s going to be step by step for those guys."