The first addition to Kansas City’s new look midfield? An old favorite, Roger Espinoza.
After searching for a midfield anchor in the wake of the loss of Oriol Rosell last spring, Peter Vermes turned to Lawrence Olum and then Jorge Claros — both have since left the team. Vermes also added three more defensive-minded midfielders to the mix this offseason in James Marcelin (waived during preseason), Servando Carrasco and Soni Mustivar. With youngsters Mikey Lopez and Jimmy Medranda in the mix, Vermes has assembled a much deeper stable of interchangeable parts than he had available last year.
But the biggest acquisition was Espinoza — who KC was able to reacquire after Wigan terminated his contract. (Kansas City never lost his MLS rights since he joined Wigan on a free transfer.)
Espinoza’s stamina, work rate and out-right determination will immediately strengthen a midfield that relied heavily on the aging (and injury-prone legs of) Paulo Nagamura and the (suddenly discovered, but not exactly known-for) defensively solidity of Benny Feilhaber.
Thus far in preseason, Vermes has opted for a two-man central partnership of Espinoza and Feilhaber — as opposed to his familiar three-man midfield with a deep, holding midfielder in front of the backline. The results, limited as they may be by preseason action, have been encouraging. The two are capable of covering a lot of ground and interchanging defensive/offensive responsibilities.
(age / nationality / MLS experience / previous club/college)
Bernardo Añor (26, Venezuela, 5th season, Columbus Crew), Servando Carrasco (26, USA, 5th season, Houston Dynamo), Roger Espinoza (28, Honduras, 6th season, Wigan Athletic), Benny Feilhaber (30, USA, 5th season, New England Revolution), Mikey Lopez (22, USA, 3rd season, none), Jimmy Medranda (21, Colombia, 3rd season, Deportivo Pereira - Colombia), Soni Mustivar (25, France, 1st season, Petrolul Ploiesti - Romania), Paulo Nagamura (31, Brazil, 11th season, Chivas USA), Graham Zusi (28, USA, 7th season, none)
Jorge Claros (contract terminated) Lawrence Olum (contract mutually terminated), Antonio Dovale (option declined), Michael Kafari (option decline), Victor Munoz (option decline), Sal Zizzo (selected by New York City FC in the expansion draft)
New in Town: Añor
Quietly acquired during the post-season purge, the Venezuelan midfielder/winger has a chance to be a very, very shrewd acquisition for Kansas City. He’s looked very sharp in preseason on the left wing, giving Vermes a playmaking and scoring threat on each wing (with Zusi on the other). At just 26 years old, he’s only two years older than Dom Dwyer — who, interestingly enough, replaced Añor at the University of South Florida in 2011.
Welcome Back: Espinoza
After two years chasing the dream of playing in Europe with Wigan Athletic, Kansas City’s whirling-dervish midfielder has come back home. His stint in England was marred by the team’s fall out of the Premier League and coaching turnover (four since 2013), but he was part of a magical run for Wigan in winning the 2013 FA Cup.
Vermes is hoping that Espinoza’s ability to create mischief and on-ball pressure — not to mention his lung-busting efforts to cover every blade of grass on the field — can help reinforce the broken spine that hampered KC’s midfield last year.
Big Number: 6.8
Fewer interceptions per game in 2014 than in 2013 — when Sporting KC led the league. Interceptions aren’t the only statistic to measure a defensive performance, but they are a pretty good one for Sporting KC. A key component of Vermes’ defense is the ability to swallow up passes in the midfield and break-up attacking movements. In 2014, KC struggled to do that and the results bore that out.
Espinoza, by the way, was an interception machine during his previous tenure with the club.
Sam McDowell, Sporting KC beat reporter: The return of Roger Espinoza has made things a bit crowded in the middle of the park, and it will leave a high-caliber player on the bench. Who will be the odd man out? The likely choice is Paulo Nagamura, a 12-year MLS veteran who has appeared in 65 matches in three seasons with Sporting KC, all but eight of them as a starter.
The gluttony of options in midfield could allow Vermes to tweak his usual 4-3-3 formation and put a triangle in the middle of the park, utilizing the versatile skill-sets of Espinoza and Feilhaber and pushing newcomer (and preseason camp star) Krisztian Nemeth into an attacking midfielder role.
Charles Gooch, Full 90 blogger: At times during preseason, it’s looked like Vermes might have something special with the combination of Añor, Feilhaber and Zusi pulling the attacking strings in a broad creative triangle. Añor and Zusi have the ability to trouble a defense with sharp runs into attacking channels, but they can also stay wide and work with overlapping fullbacks to open up chances for the strikers (or each other). Both can play with the ball at their feet too.
With Feilhaber always looking to drift into the play late — and Espinoza is capable of this too — KC could be a dangerous team with several different options making the late run into the box. The areas of concern, however, are how Espinoza-Feilhaber handle the switch between offense and defense, and who wins the battle for defensive midfielder between Carrasco, Lopez and Mustivar.