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.
When 19-year-old center back Kaveh Rad signed a Homegrown Player contract for Sporting Kansas City on Monday, what was once a pipe dream became an actual possibility.
If he absolutely had to, Manager Peter Vermes would be able to field a starting XI consisting solely of Sporting KC Academy products. Just think about it: Brooks Thompson in goal with Rad in defense alongside full backs Jaylin Lindsey and Cam Duke; a midfield four of Gianluca Busio, Ozzie Cisneros, Felipe Hernandez and Grayson Barber; and a three-pronged attack featuring Tyler Freeman, Wilson Harris and Daniel Salloi.
One day soon, Sporting may reach the point where fielding an XI dominated by Academy products is commonplace. The Homegrown Player mechanism, after all, applies to 12 of the 28 players on Sporting's current roster. It should be noted that goalkeeper John Pulskamp has a Homegrown tag but is not a Sporting KC Academy graduate, as his Homegrown rights were acquired from the LA Galaxy last year.
All of this Homegrown buzz sets the stage for a timely edition of our countdown to the 2021 season: how Sporting's current roster was constructed. For clarity, we classify each player as a Homegrown, MLS Super Draft pick or a signing, then provide relevant details tied to their arrivals in Kansas City.
- Daniel Salloi (2016): Sporting's longest-tenured Homegrown Player moved to Kansas City from Hungary as a teenager and reached the MLS level before his 19th birthday.
- Gianluca Busio (2017): At age 15, Busio became the second-youngest player in MLS history upon his signing.
- Jaylin Lindsey (2018): Lindsey's signing was announced in September 2017 and his MLS contract kicked in at the beginning of 2018. He was 17 when he began his pro career.
- Tyler Freeman (2019): The second-youngest player in Sporting history grew up in nearby Shawnee, Kansas, and turned pro just before his 16th birthday.
- Cam Duke (2019): Unlike the Homegrown teammates that came before him, Duke made his professional debut at the MLS level rather than in the USL Championship. He earned his first pro appearance last summer at the MLS is Back Tournament.
- Felipe Hernandez (2019): Hernandez became the first player to move along Sporting's full player pathway, rising from Academy Affiliate to Sporting KC Academy to Sporting KC II to the first team.
- John Pulskamp (2020): As mentioned above, Pulskamp is technically a Homegrown Player despite the fact that he didn't develop in Sporting's Academy. Sporting acquired his Homegrown rights from the Galaxy in early 2020.
- Wilson Harris (2020): Harris signed his first professional contract with Sporting KC II and became the youngest player in USL Championship history to record 20 career goals.
- Grayson Barber (2021): Barber developed in the Sporting KC Academy, then played three years of college soccer at Clemson before returning to Kansas City to launch his MLS career.
- Ozzie Cisneros (2021): Cisneros signed his first pro contract with Sporting at the age of 16.
- Brooks Thompson (2021): Like Harris, Thompson signed professionally for Sporting KC II in 2019 and now enters his first year at the MLS level.
- Kaveh Rad (2021): Rad has played regularly for Sporting KC II over the last two seasons and signed his first pro contract at the USL Championship level in early 2020 before making the jump to MLS this week.
MLS Super Draft Picks
- Graham Zusi (2009): The longest-tenured active MLS player with one club joined Sporting way back in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft when the club was still known as the Kansas City Wizards.
- Graham Smith (2018): Here at Sporting, the Grahams represent the MLS SuperDraft.
- Tim Melia (2015): Sporting signed Melia just before Christmas 2014, the same year he spent a good chunk of the season as a League Pool Goalkeeper.
- Roger Espinoza (2015): After competing for Kansas City from 2008-2012, Espinoza returned in early 2015 on a free transfer from Wigan Athletic in England.
- Ilie Sanchez (2017): Sanchez was acquired as a discovery signing in early 2017.
- Johnny Russell (2018): Russell joined Sporting in early 2018 on a transfer from Derby County FC.
- Andreu Fontas (2018): Fontas was unattached to a club when he signed for Sporting in August 2018.
- Luis Martins (2019): Like Fontas, Martins was unattached to a club when he signed for Sporting in August 2019.
- Roberto Puncec (2020): Puncec was Sporting's marquee defensive signing during the offseason that led into 2020.
- Khiry Shelton (2020): Shelton spent 2018 with Sporting, then played for 12 months in Germany with SC Paderborn 07 before returning to Children's Mercy Park ahead of the 2020 campaign.
- Alan Pulido (2020): Pulido joined Sporting on a club-record transfer fee from Chivas de Guadalajara.
- Amadou Dia (2020): Amadou Dia played for Sporting from 2015-2016, spent three seasons in the USL Championship with Phoenix Rising FC, then returned to Kansas City in early 2020.
- Gadi Kinda (2020): Kinda joined Sporting on loan from Beitar Jerusalem in early 2020 and made his move permanent ahead of this season.
- Remi Walter (2021): Walter was unattached to a club when he signed for Sporting at the tail end of 2020.
- Kendall McIntosh (2021): McIntosh was acquired through the MLS Re-Entry Process last December and officially signed for Sporting in January.
- Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (2021): Like Walter, his fellow French countryman, Isimat-Mirin was unattached to a club when he signed in early February.