In the first week of November, the sting of a playoff loss still fresh, Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes deepened his review of the 2016 season. An examination that had been lurking for months reached a conclusion he assumed it would — the offense needed some remodeling.
Nearly four months later, the most noticeable roster makeover indeed materialized within the attack, which is the lead segment for The Star’s 2017 season previews. We will analyze the midfield and defense later this week ahead of Sporting Kansas City’s season-opening road trip Saturday to meet D.C. United.
For now, the offense:
Dom Dwyer is entrenched as the striker, having tallied 50 goals over the past three seasons. He scored 16 last year, despite relinquishing penalty-kick duties. Even in his record-breaking 2014 campaign, when he scored 22, seven of them came from the penalty dot.
But Sporting KC has been unable to find a long-term, stable option to pair with Dwyer in the offense. Krisztian Nemeth had a brilliant 2015. Gone in 2016.
The turnover alongside Dwyer is significant this season, too. In fact, other than Dwyer, no offensive player currently on the roster scored more than twice in Kansas City last year.
A lot of them. Gerso Fernandes was Sporting Kansas City’s most expensive addition of the offseason, and he will occupy one of three designated-player spots on the roster. Fernandes, a lefty, played in Portugal’s first division last year. He is most noted for his creativity in the final third, though his final touch and scoring ability remains unproven.
So where will the goals come from other than Dwyer? Sporting KC hopes at least part of the answer is 20-year-old Latif Blessing, the most valuable player of the Ghana Premier League. He led that league with 17 goals. Since his arrival, the Sporting KC coaching staff has raved about Blessing’s speed. But MLS represents a major jump for Blessing, who stands only 5 foot 7.
Sporting KC also supplemented its options at all three front-line positions — striker, left wing and right wing — by bringing back Soony Saad, who played four seasons in Kansas City before spending the past two years playing in Thailand.
Under the radar
The return of homegrown player Daniel Salloi after last season’s transfer to Hungarian club Vasas SC was a quiet one, but Salloi has impressed the Sporting KC coaches during the last two months. He was even in the starting lineup in the final preseason match over the weekend.
Salloi, 20, has never appeared in an MLS match, but it shouldn’t take long before that’s a statistic of the past. After moving to the United States from Hungary, he spent time in the Sporting KC Academy, which is why he qualifies as a homegrown player.
Dom Dwyer (striker), Gerso Fernandes (left wing), Latif Blessing (right wing)