Now seven matches into year two of the revolutionary MLS NEXT Pro, Sporting Kansas City II has found success early in the season. Following a 2-1 win over Earthquakes II on matchday seven, Sporting KC II boasts a 3-3-1 record, 11 points and sits above the playoff line one quarter through the campaign.
Head coach Benny Feilhaber and assistant coach Ike Opara, both in their second year, spent a busy offseason rebuilding SKC II’s roster with talented international players, former college standouts and former Sporting KC Academy players. They have bolstered the squad with talented amateur players currently in the SKC Academy and a group of first-team players gaining valuable minutes.
HIGHLIGHTS: Earthquakes II vs. Sporting KC II | May 05, 2023
A roster breakdown
In just seven matches played this season, 28 different field players and three goalkeepers have been called into action. Among this group are six Sporting KC first-team players and five amateur SKC Academy players.
Serving as the midway point for the Sporting KC Academy in MLS NEXT and the first team in Major League Soccer, SKC II has also seen three players called up on short-term loans. Mo Abualnadi, Ethan Bryant and Sebastian Cruz all made their Sporting KC introductions in the club’s 3-0 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Third Round victory over Tulsa Athletic on April 25 at Children’s Mercy Park.
Early on in the season, coach Feilhaber has found success while dealing with lots of roster turnover. SKC II has yet to trot out an identical starting eleven in any of their matches this season. There have been seven different iterations of the back four and six different midfields. The front three have remained relatively consistent with three various versions.
The forwards have fulfilled the goalscoring need for Sporting KC II to start the season. The team has scored 13 goals on the season and has yet to be shutout in a match. They strike early, having found the back of the net within the first 10 minutes of a match in four contests this season. They have also scored first against every opponent this season, getting SKC II out on the front foot every time.
The 2023 season has seen the emergence of many key contributors for SKC II. Amongst them are team captains Josh Coan and Jahon Rad who have both provided veteran presences on the pitch in their six appearances. Coan has one goal and two assists in four starts and Rad has the highest passing accuracy completing 95.5 percent of his 331 passing attempts.
Newcomer Pau Vidal has been a goal-scoring machine, finding the back of the net five times in 2023. Vidal scored in five consecutive matches and is currently tied for third in the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot race. All five of the tall, imposing forward’s goals have come inside the box, tied for second most in the league. Serving these balls into the box for Vidal has been winger Andrew Draper who has a team-best three assists. He scored his first goal in Sporting Blue in SKC II’s last match.
First-team loanees Ozzie Cisneros and Danny Flores have provided SKC II major minutes in the midfield. Cisneros bagged the match-winning goal against LAFC2 in early April and Flores, in his rookie season, has made five appearances, sinking the winning kick from the spot against Austin FC II in SKC II’s home opener.
SKC II’s imposing back-four has seen 10 players slot into the defensive third with Lucas Rosa leading all players with seven starts. He is the only member of the team to start every match this season and has missed just 14 minutes all season. In his first season as a professional, Rosa already has one goal, one assist and one Goal of Matchday Four title under his belt.
The SKC Academy’s role in SKC II
While seven current SKC Academy players are available for selection for MLS NEXT Pro duty, nine former Academy players are rostered on SKC II. Abualnadi and Cruz, who both played for the Swope Park Rangers in USL Championship, earned first-team call-ups this year as well.
Cruz has been paramount to SKC II this season, tallying one goal and two assists. Abualnadi missed the first match of the season, spending time with the Jordan U-20 Men’s Olympic National team, but has returned to his native Kansas City to appear in four matches this season.
Academy product Enzo Mauriz is another player back at Swope Soccer Village in his first pro season. Mauriz enjoyed three successful seasons at Kentucky and now has five pro appearances to his name.
In his second season as a member of SKC II, Nati Clarke has already earned three starts, played every minute of those matches and earned a clean sheet. He has been joined by fellow U-19 players Jacob Bartlett and Cielo Tschantret on the second team this season. Bartlett spent time at both the first and second team’s preseasons and Tschantret scored his first pro goal against FC Cincinnati 2 on April 23.
What comes next
With 75 percent of the season still to go, SKC II is in the thick of a competitive Western Conference playoff battle. In the near future, Sporting KC II hosts LA Galaxy II at Rock Chalk Park on Sunday, May 14 at 5 p.m. CT. Tickets are on sale at SeatGeek.com and fans can catch all the action at MLSNEXTPro.com or on the MLS YouTube channel.
Following the bout with Galaxy II, SKC II heads to St. Louis CITY2 for a rivalry-renewing rumble at CITYPARK on Sunday, May 21. They will then return to Rock Chalk Park to face Real Monarchs, a team they thumped 4-0 away from home less than a month ago.
Fans can catch all the exhilarating SKC II action in a number of ways. Nine matches remain at Rock Chalk Park before SKC II returns to Swope Soccer Village for their final two home matches in September. Tickets for all SKC II home matches are on sale at SeatGeek.com. Fans can also follow @SportingKCII on Twitter for updates throughout the 2023 season.