The Full 90

The Full 90’s 2016 Sporting KC preview: midfielders

Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber.
Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

With the 2016 MLS regular season less than a week away, and the rest of the league already previewed on the blog, attention to turns to Sporting Kansas City and its pursuit of more hardware in the year to come.

Our position breakdown continues with the midfielders:

Benny Feilhaber

2015 FINISH: 30 starts, 2,731 minutes played, 10 goals, 15 assists

2016 ROLE: Starting attacking midfielder

SKINNY: An MVP finalist who would’ve done more had the injury to Roger Espinoza not forced him to sit deeper in the midfield, Benny Feilhaber was an artist in the center of the field last season. Sporting KC had lacked creativity in the middle of the field before his breakout playoff run in 2013. Since then, it’s been an entirely different story. Feilhaber is 31, but don’t expect that to stop him from another strong season.

Roger Espinoza

2015 FINISH: 17 starts, 1,484 minutes played, 1 goal, 4 assists

2016 ROLE: Starting midfielder

SKINNY: Afoot injury put an end to an outstanding 2015 season. Despite the low scoring production, Espinoza was a smarter, more resourceful version of himself than during his first stint with the club, essentially locking down a side of the field. That allowed Soni Mustivar to cover less ground, and Feilhaber to push forward. Expect even more this season from Espinoza.

Soni Mustivar

2015 FINISH: 20 starts, 1,838 minutes played, 0 goals, 2 assists

2016 ROLE: Starting defensive midfielder

SKINNY: Mustivar was a workhorse and then some in his first season with Sporting KC. He didn’t have any noise surrounding his signing, which in hindsight could’ve been a huge benefit, as he played as free-flowing as any defensive midfielder in the league. After earning a deserved payday this offseason, Mustivar will be tasked with replicating the first half of last season. And with Espinoza returning to the lineup, that form should be easier to reach.

Paulo Nagamura

2015 FINISH: 17 starts, 1,484 minutes played, 3 goals, 1 assist

2016 ROLE: Spot starter

SKINNY: In a few years, when Paulo Nagamura has retired and joined Vermes’ coaching staff, maybe then will people realize just how important he was to Sporting KC’s string of success. He’s a leader in the eyes of everyone in the organization, a shining example of positivity and understanding. Nagamura expected to be a backup last season; at one point, he even relished the opportunity to come off the bench. But when Espinoza went down, he was the guy to step back into the limelight. And he did it well. At 32, the miles on his legs are weighty, but his grasp of the game makes him a valuable piece off the bench.

Lawrence Olum

2015 FINISH: Member of Malaysian side Kedah FA

2016 ROLE: Spot starter

SKINNY: “Leaping Larry” returns to Kansas City where he played from 2011-14. Having filled in for Oriol Rosell periodically during his first stint, Olum is familiar with the defensive midfielder role. He’s a nice backup for Mustivar. But more importantly, his presence allows Feilhaber to remain an attacking midfielder, whereas without Mustivar, Feilhaber was forced to drift back in support.

Jordi Quintilla

2015 FINISH: 3 starts, 274 minutes played, 0 goals, 0 assists

2016 ROLE: Spot starter

SKINNY: While one could summarize Jordi Quintilla’s 2015 season with the phrase, “Jake, I go” — a comment made during penalties in the U.S. Open Cup final — it would be doing a disservice to the promising young midfielder. Fans forget that Quintilla was picked to start on Decision Day against the L.A. Galaxy, a match Sporting KC needed to win to assure itself a spot in the playoffs. The 22-year-old still has much to learn in MLS, but there’s no denying his skill. He’s a prototypical Spaniard footballer, excellent with the ball at his feet with a dose of creativity to boot. Flying under the radar this offseason, Quintilla could emerge as go-to option off the bench.

Jimmy Medranda

2015 FINISH: 7 starts, 426 minutes played, 0 goals, 0 assists

2016 ROLE: Loaned to Swope Park Rangers

SKINNY: Jimmy “Shoot First” Medranda took a step forward last season. In his brief appearances, he showcased calmer demeanor on the ball and more in tune with what was developing around him — an improvement over shooting the ball whenever he was within 25 yards. After Vermes teased Medranda at fullback, the 22-year-old moved back to the midfield where he’ll spend most of 2016 with the Swope Park Rangers.

Bernardo Anor

On loan with Minnesota United FC of USL

Be sure to check out the other Sporting KC season previews: