With the 2017 MLS schedule half competed, Sporting Kansas City occupies first place in the Western Conference, three points clear of a three-way tie for second.
On the eve of the season, I polled my Twitter followers to gauge their expectations for Sporting KC. Only 26 percent predicted a top-two seed at year’s end. (I wasn’t in that group, either.) So perhaps it’s fair to say the first half of the season has exceeded expectations.
OK, exceeded some people’s expectations.
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Anyway, a busy several weeks are on the horizon for Sporting KC, which may affect that first-place standing. The Gold Cup is next month. The summer transfer window opens on July 10. Let’s talk some Sporting KC:
A lot of questions about 20-year-old homegrown defender Erik Palmer-Brown popped into the mentions this week. And rightfully so. There’s a lot to unravel here.
First things first: I have it on good authority that no club has made a transfer offer to Sporting KC for Palmer-Brown, despite some reports to the contrary. Palmer-Brown is out of contract at the end of 2017, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a foreign club to commit money to a transfer when he will essentially be free in six months.
Having said that, Palmer-Brown can sign a pre-contract with another club six months before his deal with Sporting KC expires. And we’re nearing that date. That could be an intriguing option for him.
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes is insistent that he sees Palmer-Brown as an integral part of the club’s future. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Palmer-Brown hasn’t seen the field in Kansas City this year — that his value is rising because of his time with the United States under-20 men’s national team, not his play in a Sporting KC uniform.
Sporting KC is prepared to make Palmer-Brown a competitive offer to stay here long-term, I’m told. But Palmer-Brown wants to play. He believes he’s ready to play. Many scouts agree. But with Matt Besler and Ike Opara manning the middle of the defense and Ilie Sanchez entrenched as a defensive midfielder, I have a difficult time figuring out how Sporting KC will offer him more playing time.
All of the above? I think it’s possible — or perhaps even likely — that all three will be part of the Gold Cup roster for the United States men’s national team.
After Saturday’s match in San Jose, Vermes responded to my question about backup forward Diego Rubio by saying that Rubio needs to get up to speed because Dwyer will be gone next month. Take that for what you will. If so, it will be the England-born Dwyer’s debut with the United States, which is a pretty cool story, really.
If you’re asking which one of the three Sporting KC would miss the most, it would be hard to answer anything other than Dwyer. While Zusi has performed well in his first season as a right back, Saad Abdul-Salaam filled in admirably earlier this month.
Perhaps Palmer-Brown would be an option should Besler indeed receive the call. Palmer-Brown is nearing full health, Vermes said Wednesday. Kevin Ellis is another obvious candidate to fill in for Besler.
The options to replace Dwyer are much less certain. Soony Saad, Latif Blessing, Cameron Porter and Rubio can play striker. But none are like-for-like replacements. I think Rubio offers the most among the bunch, but he just returned from his ACL injury over the weekend. Expecting extended minutes from him is lofty.
The second favorite topic of the week. The secondary transfer window will open July 10, allowing Sporting KC to make midseason additions. Vermes has said the club will attempt to be active, but let’s be honest here: Why wouldn’t he say that? It doesn’t hurt to remind your players that their starting sports aren’t a certainty.
History tells us that Sporting KC prefers to make its bigger additions in the offseason. See: Ilie Sanchez and Gerso Fernandes for recent examples. There are also few glaring holes in the Sporting KC lineup. Yes, another scorer — either on the wing or as a late-game substitute — would be beneficial. But the front office likes this team and believes it can win. The first half of the season serves as their evidence.
I’m not saying the team stays completely quiet — things can always change quickly in this business — but I don’t sense a lot of desperation for a shakeup.
Not as of now. It wasn’t a pretty divorce when Krisztian Nemeth abruptly left Sporting KC in the 2016 preseason. When a report out of Qatar last year mentioned that Nemeth would like to return to MLS and even Kansas City someday, I repeated it to a Sporting KC staffer, who replied, “I bet he would.”
Sporting KC also relinquished his MLS rights by accepting a transfer fee for his departure, complicating a potential reunion.
I think the Sporting KC front office would put the hard feelings aside to better its chances of winning, but this isn’t a move I expect to fall into place.
No. The media typically receives advanced copies of books about prominent local figures, so I expect someone at The Star will be on that list. Eager to read it, and I’ll share my thoughts once I do. It appears to be due out this November.
Thanks for the questions this week. More soon...