Now that we're just a little under two weeks away from the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, I thought it would be a good time to look at Sporting Kansas City's current roster situation, and some of this year's draft prospects that may be on the club's radar.
Obviously, projecting just who Kansas City will select would prove to be next to impossible given the fact that there are so many variables left in play at the moment. The combine is just around the corner (January 6-10), so there will more than likely be some shuffling of player rankings based on how prospects perform. We also know that Sporting are actively pursuing potential players overseas that could fill holes that the team currently has on the roster, but for the moment, we'll pretend that Kansas City is drafting based solely on how the roster stands today.
The good news for Sporting is that the club's starters are set at a number of positions, which in all likelihood, gives them the ability to draft the best available player. Meaning in short that Kansas City has the luxury of drafting the best player available if they so choose to go that route.
An attacking midfielder to pair with Graham Zusi would appear to be the biggest glaring hole on the roster. Zusi and holding midfielder Julio Cesar are penciled in the starting XI in the Sporting midfield, but a true number 10 for the squad is still missing. Brazilian Jeferson was brought in this past summer to play that number 10 role, but injuries and his inability to adapt to MLS' style of play made his stay in Kansas City unsuccessful.
There has been plenty of speculation that the club will sign a designated player (DP) for the CAM (central attacking midfielder) position, as MLSsoccer.com's Sporting beat writer Andrew Wiebe has noted that club officials have told him a potential DP would most likely be an attacking player. Sporting appears to be set at center forward (Teal Bunbury, CJ Sapong), and on the wings (Bobby Convey, Kei Kamara), so an attacking midfielder would appear to make some sense in regards to a potential DP.
Other than a CAM, finding quality depth will probably be Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes' top priority heading into the draft. At the moment, the club has quality depth at only three positions; center forward, goalkeeper, and fullback.
The trio of Teal Bunbury, CJ Sapong, and Soony Saad give Sporting one of the best trio of center forwards in Major League Soccer. Michael Harrington can provide depth at both fullback spots in the Kansas City defense, backing up Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic. Jimmy Nielsen is the unquestioned starter at goalkeeper for the club, but Eric Kronberg provides a solid second option if Jimmy were to go down with injury, with Jon Kempin being a young player with a lot of potential down the road serving as the third goalkeeper for the squad.
Quality depth is sorely lacking in regards to both attacking winger positions in Vermes' 4-3-3 formation. While Kei Kamara and Bobby Convey are both set as the starters, Kansas City is lacking any true winger depth should either go down with injury in 2012. Sapong was able to fill in admirably for former left winger Omar Bravo during the club's playoff run, but it's obvious that CJ is much more comfortable playing center forward.
As mentioned earlier, Zusi and Cesar should man two of the three midfield spots. Roger Espinoza is a versatile player that can play the defensive midfielder spot, as well as higher up the pitch in a more of an attacking role. However, Espinoza is no where near the creator that Sporting needs. Newly acquired midfielder Paulo Nagamura could prove to be a vital piece to the equation, given his versatility (he can play all three midfield positions), but much like Roger, he doesn't appear to solve Sporting's need for a true playmaker.
It's not quite certain what some of the other midfielders on the Sporting roster bring to the table. Luke Sassano is probably a fringe player at best, and Peterson Joseph and Konrad Warzycha are still somewhat of unknowns at the moment.
Sporting's backline is pretty much set in stone. Right back Chance Myers finally broke out in 2011, becoming the player the club envisioned when they drafted him number one overall in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. Seth Sinovic was quite a find for Vermes at the left fullback spot, as Sporting were able to sign Sinovic after both New England and Real Salt Lake decided he wasn't a fit for their teams. Matt Besler, and Aurelien Collin give Kansas City a formidable central defense, but depth is a concern behind the two starters. Trinidad & Tobago native Daneil Cyrus, and former USL-Pro Lawrence Olum haven't had much of an opportunity to show what they are capable of.
Potential Draft Selections:
Everyone knows about college stand outs like Darren Mattocks (Akron), Billy Schuler (North Carolina), and Andrew Wenger (Duke), but the reality of the 2012 draft for Sporting is that by the time they select with the 16th overall pick those players will be long gone, and that Sporting will more than likely be drafting a player that will either be a depth selection, or a player that might not have an immediate impact in the upcoming season. That's not saying that an overlooked player won't be sitting there when Kansas City picks (think CJ Sapong in 2011), just that the odds are the player that they select will need time to develop and adapt to the pro game.
Let's take a look at a few of the upcoming crop of college player's that will most likely be available when Kansas City selects in the first round that may catch Vermes' eye come draft day.
- Austin Berry - Louisville - Senior - Defender If you are Peter Vermes, there's a lot to like about a player like Berry. He's a smart, strong, and versatile player that would provide depth at the heart of Sporting Kansas City's defense. Berry would also give Kansas City another weapon in the air, as he is quite effective scoring from set pieces. He has had nagging injuries in the past, as he only featured in 12 of Louisville's matches in 2011, but when healthy, this 6' 2", 180 pound senior could play a significant role in shoring up the quality behind Besler and Collin.
- Sam Garza - UC Santa Barbara - Junior - Midfielder Once again, versatility is the key here, as Garza is able to play on the wings, as well as up top. Garza is the kind of player that I would imagine would greatly appeal to Vermes, as he can not only score, but he can also play the role of playmaker. He finished his junior season with 9 goals, and 10 assists. A player like Garza could potentially play a key role for Sporting, as he could more than likely back up both Kamara and Convey on the wings, which was a problem in 2011.
- Calum Mallace - Marquette - Senior - Midfielder Mallace was named the Big East Conference's Midfielder of the Year in 2011. The numbers for his senior season don't exactly stand out (3 goals, 6 assists), but Mallace is a dangerous two-way midfielder that can occasionally make the amazing play. However, some have questioned Mallace's engine, and how that might translate to the MLS game.
- Tony Cascio - Conneticut - Senior - Midfielder A selection of Cascio would continue the trend that we've seen Vermes embark on since the end of Kansas City's season with the addition of versatile players such as Convey, and Nagamura. In Cascio, Sporting would be selecting a player that can play a multitude of positions, including striker, winger, and attacking midfielder, although most feel Cascio is best suited on the wings. Cascio finished his senior season with 5 goals, and 8 assists. Cascio is considered by some to be the best winger prospect in this year's draft, and if he were to fall to Kansas City with the 16th pick, I would have to think he would be an intriguing player for Vermes & Company.
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