As Sporting Kansas City seeks a return to the root of past playoff success, the top of its offseason wish list is young speed and talent.
The club has narrowed that search.
Sporting Kansas City has agreed to a one-year loan acquisition of defender Igor Juliao, who spent 2014 with the club. Sporting KC has also entered contract negotiations with wingers Gerso Fernandes and Latif Blessing, a source told The Star.
Juliao, 22, played with Sporting KC in 2014 while on loan with Brazilian club Fluminense. He is a right back with a strong sense of pushing forward to contribute to the offensive attack — the profile of an ideal player in coach Peter Vermes’ 4-3-3 system.
Juliao confirmed his return with a tweet later Thursday, a picture with the caption, “I’m coming back!”
Fernandes, 25, has played in Portugal since his teenage years, most recently for Belenenses, where he started eight games since joining in June. A wide attacking player, Fernandes is highly-regarded for his pace, something Sporting KC felt it severely lacked last season.
Blessing is only 19 years old, but he is already a proven goal scorer. He tallied 17 goals to lead the Ghana Premier League this season and last week was voted the most valuable player of the league for the 2015-16 season. He has been included on the Ghanaian national team’s 30-player provisional roster for the Africa Cup of Nations, according to a report by Football Ghana.
The three additions — which are not yet finalized — would fall in line with Vermes’ comments early in the offseason that he wishes to infuse the roster with starter-caliber players.
Juliao plays a right back position that was occupied by Saad Abdul-Salaam for most of last season. After the 2014 season, Sporting returned Juliao to Fluminense, which has owned his rights for the past two years.
Abdul-Salaam made 26 league starts last year and recorded six assists. If Sporting KC reaches a deal with Juliao, it would further increase the likelihood that the club moves on from Chance Myers, who is a free agent this offseason. Myers made only six starts in 2016.
Together, Fernandes and Blessing would add significant speed to a Sporting KC offense that did not find reliable scoring beyond striker Dom Dwyer in 2016. After the departure of Krisztian Nemeth last offseason, Sporting KC relied instead on combinations of Jacob Peterson, Graham Zusi, Brad Davis and Connor Hallisey on the wings. Peterson contributed a career-best six goals, but signed with Atlanta United as a free agent on Wednesday. Zusi and Davis had just two goals apiece, and Hallisey did not score in 17 MLS appearances.