Jimmy Medranda collected the ball with his right foot. He faked right. He cut left. He sprinted toward the box and dished a pass to Dom Dwyer, who flicked a shot inches over the crossbar.
In a scoreless draw Saturday with Portland, Medranda’s burst provided Sporting Kansas City with one of its premier goal-scoring opportunities.
That was the part you saw.
The part you likely didn’t notice? His coaching staff screaming from the sideline.
“When he was getting that ball, I told him, ‘Go!’” coach Peter Vermes said. “He has the ability to beat someone on-on-one in the dribble. He just has to take the initiative. He has to be the protagonist in the game.”
It’s a work in progress with Medranda. But that’s exactly what Vermes has seen with his 21-year-old midfielder over the first month of the 2015 season.
Medranda joined Sporting KC on loan in 2013, but his professional career included only one MLS start over his first two seasons. He played a grand total of 131 minutes across MLS action last season.
He already matched that number of career starts — one — this season, when he took the field against Portland. And he likely did enough to earn himself another one when Sporting KC travels Saturday to face expansion club New York City FC at 6 p.m. at Yankee Stadium.
“When I signed Jimmy last year, I signed him to a five-year deal, because I figured it was going to take time for him,” Vermes said. “But at the same time, I think he’s got incredible potential.”
So what’s changed early this season? What’s been the cause for the increase in playing time? It’s a multitude of factors, Vermes said, but two stand out most — fitness and mental maturity.
To work on both those aspects, Sporting KC sent Medranda to Brazil over the offseason for a monthlong training stint with Fluminense FC. The two clubs reached a formal partnership last August to share training activities, among other things.
Vermes hoped the overseas tour would offer Medranda a better perspective on the requirements of being a professional athlete. The fitness. The mental maturity.
After a lengthy conversation, Medranda shared that vision, too.
“I wanted to improve physically first and then worry about the technical part later,” Medranda said through a translator. “I worked very hard at home, then I was playing for Fluminense, so that helped a lot.
“This league is very excellent, so you have to be at a very high (fitness) level to be able to compete.”
That viewpoint wasn’t always so obvious over the past two seasons, after Medranda made the move to the U.S. from his home in Colombia.
“He understands now it’s a necessity,” Vermes said. “It’s a demand that you have to make sure you are always ready for. He definitely values fitness, which he never did when he got here. He thought if you’re good with the ball, then that’s OK. But as I say all the time, guys that make it to this level, they’re all good with the ball.
“If you can’t run in this game, I’m sorry, but you don’t make it anymore.”
Medranda showed glimpses of his capabilities during preseason. The attention to detail earned him more playing time.
But that aforementioned work in progress is still very much present. Vermes says Medranda isn’t 90 minutes fit yet — and Medranda readily admits it, too. He played 56 minutes Saturday.
“The physical part, I feel like I’ve improved a lot,” he said through his translator. “I’m not 100 percent yet, but I feel like I’ve improved. I want to show it.”
And if he does? Perhaps that five-year pact will seem like a club bargain.
He could be “for sure a steady MLS player,” Vermes said. “What I can’t tell you is (if) he will reach the potential that he truly has, (which) is that he could be a dominant force within the team.”
SPORTING KANSAS CITY AT NEW YORK CITY FC
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m. Saturday; at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.
▪ TV/RADIO: KCMI (Ch. 38); 102.9 FM, La Gran D (1340 AM)
▪ ABOUT SPORTING KC (0-1-2): In search of its first victory this season, the club will be without starters Roger Espinoza and Marcel de Jong, who are away on national-team duties. Reserve Erik Palmer-Brown has joined the U.S. under-20 national team and will also miss the match. Forward Krisztian Nemeth is doubtful to make the trip with a knee injury.
▪ ABOUT NEW YORK CITY FC (1-0-2): The expansion club, coached by former Real Salt Lake boss Jason Kreis, is unbeaten over three matches in its inaugural season. On the field, it’s led by designated player David Villa, a dynamic offensive weapon who made the highly-publicized move from Spain. The Spanish national team member has more than 300 career professional goals.
▪ BOTTOM LINE: The offense may be tough to find Saturday for Sporting KC, which has scored only once over its past two matches. New York City FC has allowed just one goal this season.
▪ PREDICTION: Sporting KC 1, New York City FC 1