Before training camp, I postulated that there were only six givens on SKC’s 2011 roster: "Jimmy Nielsen is the starting keeper, Roger Espinoza and Michael Harrington are the fullbacks, Ryan Smith will start on the left in some form (whether a traditional left midfielder or the left winger role he played last year), Davy Arnaud will be in the middle and Omar Bravo sill start ... somewhere."
Knowing a little bit more today than I did last week, I now feel that Nielsen, Arnaud and Bravo are the only true sure things, with Espinoza/Harrington as close to locks without being actual locks as possible. Head coach/technical director Peter Vermes is looking for competition at every spot to push and improve the team. This even accounts for areas that seemed strong in 2010. (Like Smith’s left-wing spot or Stephane Auvray’s defensive mid role.)
With 30-35 guys in training camp now, that means every position (outside of Nielsen/Arnaud/Bravo) will be a fight... not just for starting time, but for inclusion on the roster too. The league increased the roster limits to 30 players, but didn’t add any additional spots for foreign players. Meaning, one of the most interesting things to watch in training camp the next few weeks is which foreign players can lock down a roster spot with this team.
In 2010, when Sporting Kansas City re-made their roster, they did so with a heavy emphasis on foreign-born players. They were the United Nations of Major League Soccer with players from Sierra Leone, Honduras, England, Hungary, Guadeloupe, Senegal, Moldova, India, Greece, Nigeria, Jamaica, Canada and Denmark stretching the team’s budget of nine international slots.
The team heads into preparation for 2011 with five of those nine international slots* occupied: Omar Bravo (Mexico), Jimmy Nielsen (Denmark), Craig Rocastle (England), Korede Aiyegbusi (England) and Ryan Smith (England). The team is currently working to acquire dual-citizenship for Smith.**
*One of the team’s international slots will expire at the end of 2011.
**To further understand the international status of the team: Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone), Birahim Diop (Senegal), Stephane Auvray (Guadeloupe) and Shavar Thomas (Jamaica) have green cards; Roger Espinoza (Honduras) and Teal Bunbury (Canada) have dual citizenship. Nikos Kounenakis (Greece), Zoltan Hercegfalvi (Hungary, Igor Kostrov (Moldova) and Sunil Chhetri (India) have left the team.
During the team’s recent mini-camp in Kansas City, there were three foreign trialists with the team: Defenders Calum Butcher (England) and Julio Cesar Santos (Brazil), and winger Adda Dzejiri (Denmark/Algeria). The team also drafted Michael Mravec (Slovakia) in the supplemental draft. And KC were bringing in Trinidad Tobago defenders Daneil Cyrus and Sheldon Bateau. Oh, they also would like to trial (but are having issues getting) Gambian defender Omar Colley.
There’s also the attempt to bring Ecuadorian winger Franklin Salas to trial/sign with the team. (Vermes confirmed the team is interested, reports from Ecuador say he’s leaving for KC).
And, how could I forget, the max-contract attacking midfielder from Europe (according to Vermes, the team is currently in talks with three different players who fit that bill).
That’s nine (that we know of or have a hint of right now) foreign players competing for the precious international slots remaining.
It’s probably a given that Rocastle joins Nielsen and Bravo in making the team’s senior roster and eating an international slot apiece. It’s also probably a given that Smith gets his dual-citizen status (his father is an American citizen and it should really just be a matter of paperwork).
Which places last year’s second-rounder Aiyegbusi in the mix with Santos, Butcher, Dzejiri, Mravec, Cyrus, Bateau, Salas, Colley and the unnamed attacking mid fighting for places on the team.
Which makes it 10 foreign players competing for 5 international slots. Vermes and company have their work cut out for them deciding on who to keep and who to cut as they work to finalize the team’s roster.