Growing up in the famed Spanish soccer academy of La Maisia, in Barcelona, Oriol Rosell learned a highly technical and stylish possession-oriented brand of soccer.
It’s not that manager Peter Vermes’ club doesn’t value technical precision and possession, but there’s also a brutish element to the hyperaggressive 4-3-3 base system Sporting KC deploys.
That took some getting used to for Rosell, who joined the club roughly one year ago and has emerged as an indispensable fixture in the defensive midfield role.
“At Barca B and Barca Academy, you have more of the ball,” Rosell said. “You almost don’t have contact there, because you pass the ball and have a lot more time. … I wasn’t used to these things, because we had a lot more possessions. But I like how we play here, because I can improve on these things. It’s a different way to play.”
Rosell, who goes by “Uri,” signed with Sporting KC on Aug. 2 last year. He played in only five games, including one start, in his first three months in Major League Soccer.
But those were three important months.
“He had a chance to see the game in MLS, watch the different teams play and get a feel for it as opposed to being thrown to the lions right away,” Vermes said.
Rosell also got the chance to learn the defensive midfield position from fellow La Liga veteran Julio Cesar.
“I spent time with him for five months,” Rosell said. “He was a different player than me — taller and more physical. He liked to go do tackles, but I learned a lot of things from him.”
That experience helped ease Rosell’s transition into the starting lineup after Cesar and his $252,000 salary were shed in the offseason.
Rosell was never going to anchor himself in front of centerbacks Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin, as Cesar did so often last season. He also was going to be as physical of a presence breaking up opposing teams’ runs with clinical slide tackles.
What Rosell does bring, however, is a calmness that Sporting KC has lacked at times in the midfield the last few years. His technical ability allows the club to build its attack from the back rather than continually force the issue with Vermes’ style.
“We knew we were getting something different,” Vermes said. “I thought we would be better with the ball and coming out of the back with Uri, but he’s also done an excellent job on the defensive end — much better than I thought he would.”
Vermes expected the technical ability. He also knew Rosell had a tremendous soccer IQ, but there’s also a tenacity and willingness to adapt that has impressed Vermes.
“I think he leads the league in recovery of the balls, interceptions if you will,” Vermes said. “He’s very good at that. I didn’t realize he was as good as he is. And he’s good one-on-one as well as reading the passing lanes.”
Rosell, who turned 21 on July 7, plans to begin classes at UMKC as soon as next week, so there’s a chance — as young and talented as he is — that he’ll be around for a long time. He plans to study business.
“I’m happy to be here and be with this team and this staff,” Rosell said. “I think I’ve improved a lot of parts of my game. I came here because I saw a future. That’s why I’m here. I’m glad to be here, and I want to keep improving and keep learning.”