Soni Mustivar was signing autographs for a handful of Sporting Kansas City fans last month, exchanging pleasantries along the way, when he fell victim to a case of mistaken identity. Twice.
As the first-year MLS player penned his name to a Sporting KC jersey, a fan referred to him as his teammate, Jalil Anibaba. Another called him C.J. Sapong, who was traded to Philadelphia last offseason.
None, he says, recognized him as Soni Mustivar.
“I had to tell them, ‘No, I’m Soni,’” he says. “And they were like, ‘Who?’”
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Mustivar says he hasn’t played in enough games to earn recognition.
Not yet. But he’s getting there.
Mustivar, 25, has started eight straight matches at defensive midfielder, offering stability to a position that was defined by its fluctuation over the past 13 months. The club has lost only one of the eight (5-1-2).
Might Mustivar be Sporting KC’s most reliable defensive midfield option since Uri Rosell? He could make that case.
After the team agreed to transfer Rosell overseas in June 2014, Lawrence Olum overtook the starting job through the stretch run of last season, though he struggled to match Rosell’s production, and he subsequently departed the team over the offseason. In 2015, Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes opted to shift his attacking midfielder, Benny Feilhaber, to the defensive half of the midfield in an effort to shore up the position.
Finally, Mustivar received his first MLS start on May 3.
The turnstile has settled on its resting place. Mustivar has played the full 90 minutes in every game since.
“Soni’s been, I think, one of our most important players this year,” Feilhaber said. “Maybe I feel it more than anybody else, because he’s a guy that’s doing so much dirty work behind me.
“... I know a lot of the good things I’ve been able to do this year (are because) of the things he’s been able to do.”
Namely, he’s fit. Exceptionally so.
After every match, the team’s training staff presents Vermes with data showing the amount of ground each player covered over the course of the game. One name keeps popping up either atop the list — or darn close to it:
“He’s a monster,” Vermes said. “He’s killing it.”
Mustivar, who holds dual citizenship in France and Haiti, says he played a similar role during his time in Romania’s Liga I from 2011-2014, his previous stop before Kansas City.
In other words, the smooth transition hasn’t served as a surprise.
“My agent told me this league was perfect for me, and now I understand why,” Mustivar said. “I love the way the team plays. It’s high intensity. Every game is a battle. It’s tough to win, but I like that.”
The physical demands, of course, are only a portion of the positional responsibilities. As a defensive midfielder, Mustivar is in charge of finding the exposed portions of his team’s defense and filling in the gaps.
His ability to do so can allow the outside backs to charge up the field into the attack, yet maintain confidence their vacated spot will be covered.
“It’s amazing all the ground he covers every game, and it’s not because he’s running (around) like a chicken without a head on. He’s just covering what you have to do in that position,” Vermes said. “It’s a position you have to be conscientious of everyone else. You’re like a parent overseeing the schoolyard.
“It’s an important position in the way we play. I think Soni has been fantastic.”