Ahead of tomorrow night’s league opener against Sporting Kansas City, we asked Cody Bradley (@ThatCodyTho) of SB Nation sister site The Blue Testament a few questions about a Kansas City side the Red Bulls haven’t seen in some time.
Sporting KC appears from the outside to be a club marked by year-after-year consistency and continuity under Peter Vermes - what in contrast is perhaps most new about the club going into 2021?
A central part of that consistency has always been defense. Vermes was a defender himself and his teams have always been known to have that aspect of the game covered. But recently we’ve seen a defense that has struggled. Finally, the team got a lethal goal scorer in Alan Pulido to complete the team. But then the defense fell apart. What’s new this year is that local kid and long-time captain Matt Besler is gone, and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin has arrived. I expect to see a lot of Isimat-Mirin this year and Sporting KC desperately need him to grab hold of that center back spot with both hands.
Another new look will be 18-year-old Gianluca Busio taking the reins as the number 10. He already has a few years of experience under his belt, European clubs are watching, and now he will truly be unleashed. We’ll find out this year if he can really be as good as everyone has thought since becoming the second youngest player ever to sign an MLS contract in 2017.
Much like the Red Bulls, Sporting has gained a reputation for promoting homegrown talent in recent years. Are there new academy products who we could expect to see break through this year?
There are a couple names I expect to see this year in addition to Busio. SKC has a solid front three. But behind them lie the real questions with this roster.
21-year-old Wilson Harris appears to be behind Alan Pulidio on the depth chart at striker, although Khiry Shelton may slide over from the wing in Pulido’s absence. Harris was Sporting KC II’s MVP last season, and was named the USL Championship’s Young Player of the Year. The guy has proven to be a legit goalscorer, and even scored this preseason as well, but he’ll have to do it in the top flight this year. On defense there’s Kaveh Rad, the new holder of Major League Soccer’s Best Name. He really impressed Vermes this preseason and signed a first team contract just last week. There’s buzz around him right now and I think Vermes will give him a chance to prove himself this season.
If Sporting KC beats the Red Bulls on Saturday night in Harrison, how will they do it? What are the team’s strengths when on form and controlling a match?
With the preferred starting lineup, the Sporting KC attack is going to score goals this year. Khiry Shelton, Alan Pulido, and Johnny Russell on the front line have the ability to rack up the goals. Then you mix in the creativity of Busio and Gadi Kinda in the midfield and it starts to get really exciting for SKC fans. But that is if they’re healthy. There’s rumors of Russell nursing an ankle injury at the moment.
We saw this team want to control possession and play out from the back last season, I expect Vermes to continue that philosophy this year as well. The real strengths of this team are not yet known. There were injuries and no time for consistency in last year’s weird season, plus some key departures & new arrivals. So this team will have to find itself quickly. But Pulido is really one of those guys that can change a game on his own. If he’s given an opportunity to make an impact, he will. The question will be if the new look defense is up to the task of preventing New York from scoring one more.