Sporting KC announces 2018 club awards during Pitch Black celebration at Children’s Mercy Park

Graham Zusi, Johnny Russell and Ilie Sanchez celebration - Sporting KC vs. Seattle Sounders FC - April 15, 2018

Sporting Kansas City announced the club’s 2018 awards on Friday night during Pitch Black, presented by Audi, at Children’s Mercy Park. Votes from Sporting KC players, media members and supporters determined the following award winners:

  • Most Valuable Player, presented by Audi: Ilie Sanchez
  • Offensive Player of the Year, presented by Ivy Investments: Johnny Russell
  • Co-Defensive Players of the Year, presented by Fire Door Solutions: Tim Melia and Graham Zusi
  • Newcomer of the Year, presented by Rosnet: Felipe Gutierrez
  • Goal of the Year, presented by Heartland Coca-Cola: Yohan Croizet

Sporting Kansas City also selected award winners in the following categories:

  • The Neal and Jeanne Patterson Humanitarian of the Year: Graham Zusi
  • Swope Park Rangers Most Valuable Player: Hadji Barry
  • Bob Gansler Academy Player of the Year: Sebastian Cruz
  • Sporting Club Network Member of the Year, presented by Price Chopper: Sporting Kaw Valley
  • The Victory Project Volunteer of the Year: Brittany Bolden

Ilie, who was named an MLS All-Star for the first time this summer, has played every minute of Sporting KC’s 34 competitive matches this season. The defensive midfielder has scored a career-high four goals, added three assists and helped steer the club to an eighth straight playoff appearance. Ilie also ranks among the MLS leaders in successful passes (2nd) for a team that leads MLS in passing accuracy and places second in average possession. The 27-year-old Spaniard signed a multi-year contract extension with Sporting KC last month.

Russell, a Scottish winger who joined Sporting KC in January, leads the club in both goals and assists across all competitions with 11 each. He has amassed nine goals and nine assists in MLS, making him a candidate to become Kansas City’s fourth player ever to reach double-digits in both categories in a single season. The 28-year-old has spearheaded a potent Sporting KC side that has 56 league goals in 2018, third-most in team history. Russell’s excellent form this year has prompted his return to the Scotland national team, where he has collected three of his seven career caps since the start of June.

Melia has followed his MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and Team MVP campaign of 2017 with another standout season between the posts, setting career highs in saves (98), shutouts (12) and wins (15). One of four finalists for Best MLS Player at the 2018 ESPYS, Melia leads the League with 12 clean sheets and two penalty kick saves this year. He set a club record with 10 saves in a 2-0 win at the LA Galaxy in April en route to earning MLS Player of the Week honors and he has moved into second on the club’s all-time goalkeeping charts for both career wins (49) and clean sheets (38) this season. 

Zusi’s effectiveness on both sides of the field has resulted in his sixth career MLS All-Star selection, tied for the second-most in club history. He has played every minute of all 31 MLS matches and contributed to a league-best 12 shutouts from the right back position. The 10th-year veteran has also tallied two goals and five assists, leads MLS defenders with 66 chances created, and ranks among the league leaders in the following metrics: touches (1st), successful passes in the final third (5th) and interceptions (11th).

Gutierrez has enjoyed a strong first season in MLS, tallying seven goals and two assists in 18 league appearances since arriving in February. The 28-year-old Chilean international raced out to a scintillating start, landing MLS Player of the Month honors in March after becoming the second Kansas City player ever to score five goals in his first five MLS matches. Gutierrez was sidelined from May to July with a hernia injury, but has come back strong since then to help propel Sporting KC into the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.

On June 16, Croizet scored a world-class goal in the late stages of Sporting KC's dramatic victory over FC Dallas in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 at Children's Mercy Park. With the score tied 2-2 in the 89th minute, midfield newcomer Croizet lashed a breathtaking, 20-yard volley into the top left corner to decide the match. The 26-year-old Frenchman, who joined Sporting KC in December, has four goals and three assists for the club in all competitions.

As the Neal and Jeanne Patterson Humanitarian of the Year, Zusi has participated in numerous philanthropic events and embraced a leading role for The Victory Project, Sporting KC’s charitable arm that helps children and families affected by cancer and other illnesses. In addition to making monthly visits to Children’s Mercy Hospital to interact and play games with patients, Zusi has led the following Victory Project initiatives: Yoga on the Pitch at Children’s Mercy Park, Sporting KC Day at the Kansas City Zoo, the Sporting Invitational golf tournament at Loch Lloyd Country Club and Celebrity Bartending at No Other Pub. He also appeared in the Braden’s Hope Calendar for the fifth straight year.

Barry, 25, leads the Rangers in goals (16), assists (five), appearances (32) and starts (30) as one of the best attacking players in the United Soccer league. The forward’s 16 goals are a single-season SPR record and rank fifth in the USL. Now in his first season with the Rangers, Barry set an all-time USL record by scoring in eight straight games between Aug. 19 and Sept. 22 and was a finalist for USL Player of the Month in September.

Cruz was an integral contributor for the Sporting KC Academy U-19s throughout the 2017-18 season, scoring nine goals in 26 matches. The 18-year-old attacking midfielder led the team to a 15-7-4 regular season record, a third-place finish in the Frontier Division and a spot in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs. Cruz logged two appearances for Sporting KC during the club’s 2018 preseason, presented by Children’s Mercy, and played seven games for the Swope Park Rangers before continuing with the Sporting KC U-19s this fall.