This year, Sporting Kansas City will have two affiliate clubs in the USL Pro: Orlando City and Oklahoma City's Energy FC. As part of the affiliation deal between the teams, Sporting will send a minimum of two players this year to each club on long-term loan.
The loan deals are a way for young players to get in-game experience (the affiliates replace a team's reserve team) and to help other players regain/find fitness.
Last year -- the first year of the partnership between Major League Soccer and USL Pro -- Kansas City sent a handful of players to Orlando for development, including Dom Dwyer, C.J. Sapong and Jon Kempin. (Kansas City's deal with Orlando will expire at the end of this season since Orlando will join MLS in 2015.)
So, who will Kansas City send out on loan this year?
Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes said that the decision will be made"in the next two weeks"
It's worth noting that Vermes doesn't see this is as a demotion for any of his players. It's an opportunity. Last year, Dwyer was sent to Orlando, according to Vermes, to "develop a rhythm of play." All he did while in Orlando was lead the USL Pro in scoring. He parlayed that success -- and the lack of fitness of normal starting forward Claudio Bieler -- to plant himself as a starter in Kansas City.
Here are my guesses (and categories) at who the loanees might be.
Definitely Probably Maybe Going to HappenJon Kempin, goalkeeper
Kempin is the future goalkeeper for Kansas City. You know who told me that? Jimmy Nielsen. You know, the guy that happens to be Oklahoma City Energy FC's coach*. The last two year, he's been Kempin's mentor.*The team already has a distinct SKC feel to them, with former KC players Michael Thomas, Kyle Miller and Cyprian Hedrick on the roster. Sporting KC Academy grad David Leichty was signed last week.
Currently, Kempin is the third-string keeper, behind veterans Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum. Both Kronberg and Gruenebaum are starting-caliber 'keepers and figure to gobble up the available first-team playing time. Playing time is exactly what Kempin needs at this stage.
Last year, he made 9 appearances on loan to Orlando City. He'll need more this year.Possible Destination: Oklahoma City
Nielsen and Energy FC could start a goalkeeper finishing academy for Kansas City and it should start with Kempin. Though, Energy FC signed goalkeeper Samir Badr
on Tuesday. Which is interesting.
Young Guys in Need of Games
Kansas City has a couple of interesting players on the bottom of the roster. Guys with lots of upside who need to play meaningful games. An occasional U.S. Open Cup game won't really cut it.Mikey Lopez, midfielder
Last year's first round pick saw exactly zero minutes of MLS play. Partly because he was with playing with the United States in the U-20 World Cup last summer and partly because as a Generation adidas player the team have no reason to rush him into the lineup.Possible Destination: Orlando
With injuries and continued development, Lopez could be a candidate for minutes with the senior team
. Or, he could be a good fit learning the two-way midfield role for an Orlando City team looking to go out of USL Pro as champions.
Christian Duke, midfielder
Duke spent last season on loan to Orlando, making 20 appearances including playing in the USL Pro championship. While he's the ideal Vermes player -- very versatile and among the most physically fit players on the roster -- he could probably benefit from in-game experience and polish. He likely won't get that in Kansas City -- especially if Lopez or Jimmy Medranda stick with the team or when Peterson Joseph (hopefully) gets a clean bill of health.Possible Destination: Orlando
Kevin Ellis, defender
The homegrown fullback is in a tough spot, as he's got senior players ahead of him at both fullback spots (Chance Myers and Mechack Jerome on the right, Seth Sinovic and Josh Gardner on the left). In spot duty, he's proved capable and has always been a training-ground beast. He's still young enough (22) to be considered a developing player, but Kansas City might be approaching make-or-break status with him.Possible Destination: Oklahoma
He's going to need consistent game time to develop. Last year, he made two league appearances (including one start) and spent a few games with Orlando. Would he get more playing time in a system he's already familiar with in Oklahoma City? Almost certainly.
Long-Term ProspectsAdnan Gabeljic, forward; Alex Martinez, midfielder; Peter Schmetz, defender
The only three trialists left with the team (all were 2014 SuperDraft picks) in Orlando are fighting for precious few spots.
With the signing ofMedranda* last week
, there are 28 players under contract in KC. That leaves just two spots open. Should any of these three players make the roster, all would be highly likely loan candidates. Unless Vermes sees them as training bodies to have around in Kansas City, I can't see any making a game day roster anytime soon.*I suppose that Medranda could be a candidate for a loan. He's very young (just 20), but I don't believe KC would've out-right purchased him from his Colombian team just to send him to the USL-Pro. Though, that did actually happen last year when KC loaned out international defender Yann Songo to Orlando. Of course, they cut him during the summer.
Possible Destination: Oklahoma
It would be easier to keep an eye on each player -- and integrate them into an assumedly similar system -- closer to home.
There's No Way They'll Go to USL Pro but Maybe?Teal Bunbury or Soony Saad, forward
This is where we get a little crazy.
Sure, both of these guys have been/are MLS-caliber players. Bunbury spent most of 2013 recovering from an ACL injury, but has almost 90 career MLS appearances. Saad was a regular last season (15 starts, 4 goals and 4 assists).
Both had small parts to play in the MLS Cup playoffs -- Bunbury was the speedy central forward for road playoff fixtures; Saad was an offensive sub in both matches against New England. But, both are part of a very, very crowded group of forwards.
Claudio Bieler is going to get every chance to earn his spot back as the starting central forward. That's what happens when you're the designated player and returning leading scorer.
Dwyer more than earned his spot as the second choice*. Graham Zusi played a lot out wide and that probably continues. C.J. Sapong struggled at times last year to adapt to a wide role, but was a fixture in all five playoff games.*I really can't seem him going on loan again this year. I can't imagine him going from MLS Cup starter to Orlando City striker this year. Next year? Now, that's a totally different discussion.
The addition of Sal Zizzo (the only true out-and-out winger on the roster) and the returning Jacob Peterson (a responsible defensive winger who can play both sides and in the midfield) could make spots in the 18-man Match Day 18 hard to come by.
Here's my (very, very, very, very early) projected opening day roster:
GK: Eric Kronberg; DEF: Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Sinovic; MID: Oriol Rosell, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber; FWD: Zusi, Bieler, Sapong
Reserves: Gruenebaum, Jerome, Ike Opara, Lawrence Olum, Zizzo, Dwyer, Peterson/Bunbury/Saad
If everyone's healthy, someone is going to get left out of the second-reserve attacking role. While Bunbury/Saad have different skills that make them valuable pieces to have, are there enough games this year to utilize them both enough? With the Champions League to start the season, probably. Which is why I don't see it happening -- at first. Who knows what will happen come June (and the World Cup break) if one or both is struggling to consistently get first-team chances.Possible Destination: Orlando
Both players, like Dwyer last year, would definitely be a tremendous help to an established and already potent Orlando City attack.
Highly Probably Maybe Unlikely to HappenErik Palmer-Brown, defender
He's only 16 years old. There's already beenthe business with Juventus
. And he's spent time with the U.S. U-18 national team. But...
Does he need in-game experience? Or a does he need a chance to learn how to play central defender from one of the league's best defenders and the likely starting center back in the World Cup?
I think he'll stick around in KC this year and learn from Besler. I think he even might get a chance to play this year.
The next few games --starting Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls -- should start to gives us an idea of what the future might hold.