Before Sporting Kansas City stepped onto the field Monday for its initial practice of preseason camp, coach Peter Vermes acknowledged the roster was not yet complete. There will be “more to come” in the way of acquisitions before the 2018 opener on March 4, he said, cementing plans to add a striker.
Where would that leave Diego Rubio?
Set to enter his third season in Kansas City, Rubio assumed the starting forward job last summer, after the club traded Dom Dwyer to Orlando City SC. On Saturday, a day before leaving for preseason in Scottsdale, Ariz., Rubio said he’s preparing for significant minutes in 2018.
“I want to play,” he said. “I want to play every game. I want to score goals and be an important participant in the goals.”
Rubio scored six times in his 11 starts last year but just once in the final five-game stretch that prevented Sporting KC from hosting a home playoff game. The club scored only three goals in those winless five games, then was shutout in its knockout-round playoff loss to Houston.
Adding a proven striker moved atop the offseason priorities. The club remains optimistic it will accomplish that objective before the end of the month. Such a move would possibly — even likely — push Rubio to a reserve role.
“I think it’s the same thing when I came here and Dom was here,” Rubio said. “I take it in a positive way, for sure. I think we need to keep fighting for our place. I think I said last year (that) nobody is seen in this team like he is as a starter. Whoever comes here, if he can add new things to the team, it’s going to be amazing.”
To bolster his plans to be a contributor, Rubio hired a personal trainer in his native Chile, where he spent the past two months. The daily workouts prompted Rubio to return to Kansas City last week 8-9 pounds slimmer than last year’s playing weight, listed at 170 pounds.
On Monday, he participated in his first ever preseason training session with Sporting KC. By the time he joined the team in March 2016, the regular season was already a week old. He missed last year’s camp while rehabbing an ACL injury. In both cases, he was playing catchup. The knee injury sidelined him for the first half of 2017, and although he said he had no-ill effects from it, he wasn’t in his top shape.
Therein lies the optimism for 2018.
“Of course it’s going to be an advantage,” Rubio said. “For me, it’s different to come in to the middle of the season, and you come in after 8-9 months without playing a game. I think this year is going to be a little different and give me more time to get in shape.”