SKC Boasts of a Mighty Midfield

Strongly armed with talent 2012 and 2013 in midfield only leads to an even greater 2014
by Katherine Rupp   |   Wednesday, January 22, 2014

John Hefti Photography - SKC, Sporting KC

Sporting Kansas City boast some of the league’s best midfielders.

After a great showing in the 2013 MLS season, including the postseason and the Final, Sporting Kansas City’s midfielders have a lot to live up to in 2014. Largely led by Graham Zusi, the resiliency of the midfield will be seen this year as Sporting KC will be involved in numerous competitions and will need to keep fit.

Roger Espinoza, who transferred to Wigan Athletic in the Premiership – now in the Championship – after the 2012 season, was missed by Kansas City last season. His work as a constant presence in the midfield, and his incredible work rate at snuffing out the opposition’s offense all the while providing extensive physicality and endurance, are characteristics that are hard to replace, but Uri Rosell seemed to have taken on the formidable challenge.

Rosell – who recently played on the Catalonian National Team against Cape Verde by coming on as a sub in the 67th minute – has become somewhat of a revelation for KC, especially with his steadiness on the ball and awareness of the field. Although not often found on the stats sheet post-game in the assist or goal columns, Rosell is the playmaker behind the playmaker, and that’s why he’s so important. As Rosell is the fulcrum of the midfield, his unflashy play will be integral to Sporting Kansas City’s success in 2014.

Zusi, who – rightfully so – was a power in midfield for the USMNT and Sporting KC in 2013, will again be seeing lots of minutes for both teams in 2014. However, because of his (hopeful call-up) to the US Men’s National Team for the World Cup in Brazil, Zusi will be missed in the heat of summer for a handful of games. The University of Maryland product has shown his worth by racking up the plaudits, and just from 2013, he was named Sporting KC’s Team MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. Because of the impending games he will miss for the bulk of June, Sporting Kansas City can look to other players to fire up the offensive engine, but should take the upcoming preseason practices and games to hone the midfield for when Kansas City is without Zusi.

One player who was brought in last year to provide creativity and added pressure for opponents in the midfield is USMNT player, Benny Feilhaber. The Brazil-born former New England Revolution player had to become acclimated at the beginning of the 2013 season to the ‘Sporting Fit’ system that is so widely known around Sporting Park, that by the time the post-season rolled around Feilhaber seemed to replace his ‘KC newcomer’ hat with his ‘I’m a KC veteran’ hat. His silky passes, crosses, and footwork helped lead Kansas City to hoisting of the MLS Cup and his addition – and being ‘Sporting Fit’ for the full season – will help tremendously throughout the whole 2014 season but especially when Besler and Zusi are gone for the World Cup. Look for Feilhaber to take on a bigger role in 2014 after having one season of Sporting under his belt.

Sporting KC have a healthy cachet of midfield players well beyond Feilhaber, Rosell and Zusi. Because of injury in 2013, Paulo Nagamura played only 17 games, but when healthy, he certainly is a force to be reckoned with. Naga, as well as Lawrence Olum – somewhat of a clutch player (he stepped up when Rosell was injured during the MLS Cup Final and played for 112 minutes) and certainly is an asset as a defensive midfielder – and Peterson Joseph – also affectionately known as the Haitian Xavi – are more than capable to make a difference in 2014. Also, another player, who is a 4-year veteran of MLS, which Sporting KC acquired from the Portland Timbers, is Sal Zizzo. Although Zizzo, a winger, is not the offensive midfield powerhouse as some might be salivating for, he’ll be able to provide the central players with good quality service from the flanks.

A couple of other players who haven’t had playing time or minutes on the pitch with the senior team – mainly because of the strength of the starting XI and the substitutes who are called upon – include Mikey Lopez and Christian Duke. In addition to acquiring Lopez and Duke in the 2013 SuperDraft and Supplemental Draft, respectively, on Jan. 21, Sporting KC also acquired 4 new players in the 2014 SuperDraft, of which 1 is a midfielder. Alex Martinez, who played at North Carolina State University, will also be a welcome addition to the squad. Although it’s unlikely the recent pick ups – from 2013 or 2014 – will get much, if any, playing time with the senior team, the four most recent players, as well as Lopez and Duke are lucky to be within the Sporting Kansas City system.

Now that preseason training is rapidly approaching, which in turn means the 2014 season is about to be here sooner than we know it, the midfielders for Sporting Kansas City should look to make a big impact. In previous years the defense has made the difference, but this season is looking like it could be the year of the midfielders. No, there have not been any training sessions or preseason games, but with the robust talent that Kansas City hold, the upcoming season for the midfielders could shape up to be archetypical for future Sporting KC midfielder players to mirror in future years. 

Katherine RUPP

Drake University
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Unabashed Minnesotan by birth. Tried reliving the glory days of collegiate intramural soccer championships but an ACL tear dashed future hopes of adult recreational greatness. Covering a city’s team that’s too big for one state: SKC.