Sporting Kansas City head into the 2022 season looking to remain among the most dangerous forces in the Western Conference.
Peter Vermes' team are regulars at the top of the West and have the experience and quality to take on any other side in MLS on their day - even if they're somewhat underrated.
How did Sporting Kansas City perform in 2021?
Sporting KC jumped into the top three in the West as early as Week 5 and stayed there for the rest of the season. They would have won the Conference, too, were it not for a wildly inconsistent end to the regular-season. But from 4-1 away at LAFC to 3-1 in Seattle, SKC pulled off some incredibly impressive results.
There are defensive worries and after getting past the Vancouver Whitecaps in Round One of the Playoffs, they were made to pay with a 2-1 defeat against Real Salt Lake.
But even with Alan Pulido sidelined long-term SKC have more than enough attacking talent to force their way to wins if needed. With a little work at the back, they'll be right up there as main contenders again this time around.
Sporting Kansas City transfer activity
- Robert Voloder (from NK Maribor, $2.1m)
- Marinos Tzionis (from Omonia Nicosia, $2.2m)
- Logan Ndenbe (from Guingamp, $1.6m)
- Ben Sweat (from Austin FC, free transfer)
- Uri Rosell (from Orlando City, free transfer)
- Kortne Ford (from Colorado Rapids, free transfer)
- Esai Easley (SuperDraft)
- Brett St. Martin (SuperDraft)
- Nikola Vujnovic (from Vozdovac, loan)
- Jaylin Lindsey (to Charlotte FC, $325k)
- Ilie Sanchez (to LAFC, free transfer)
- Roberto Puncec (to Botev Plovdiv, free transfer)
- Graham Smith (to Memphis 901, free transfer)
- Amadou Dia (to Louisville City, free transfer)
- Wilson Harris (to Louisville City, free transfer)
- Luis Martins (released)
- Grayson Barber (released)
- Tyler Freeman (released)
- Brooks Thompson (released)
- Esai Easley (released)
Peter Vermes: Tactics and style of play
Peter Vermes has been in this job since 2009. During that time, he's won MLS Cup once (2013) and the US Open Cup three times (2012, 2015, 2017). In his 12 full seasons in charge, SKC have missed the Playoffs once. Let's just say, he knows how to get it done.
Vermes usually lines SKC up in a 4-3-3 formation. A central striker - Alan Pulido when fit but now likely a mix of Nikola Vujnovic and Khiry Shelton - provides the focal point and creates space for wingers Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi to cut inside, often overloading the opponent through the middle,
Further back, the likes of Gadi Kinda, and Remi Walter offer very different qualities in midfield. But like the defenders behind them, each is great with the ball. And that's Kansas City's biggest weapon: possession and the ability to exploit spaces with it. Vermes likes his side to press, but they're played through easily far too often, so keeping the ball themselves is the safer option.
Sporting Kansas City predicted XI (4-3-3): Melia, Zusi, Voloder, Fontas, Ndembe; Mauri, Kinda, Walter; Russell, Vujnovic, Salloi.
Who are Sporting Kansas City's key players?
Maybe it's because he plays for a 'small market' team. Perhaps it's because his national team isn't glamorous. Either way, Johnny Russell is one of the most underrated players in Major League Soccer, and consistently one of the most effective forwards.
After a relatively slow start to 2021, Russell went on a tear, posting at least one direct goal contribution in each of his last 10 appearances, notching 11 goals and three assists during that run. The Scottish winger's ability to lose his man at the far post and finish in the blink of an eye means the opposition defense can never switch off. He's always ready to pounce.
With Pulido out, SKC need another big season from the talismanic Russell.
After a tough couple of years, Daniel Salloi returned to his best in 2021, scoring a team-high 16 goals during the regular-season. Luckily for KSC, the majority of those were earlier in the season when Russell was struggling.
The Hungary international will always look to cut in from the left flank and is more than happy taking on shots from distance. Combined with his predatory instincts in the box, there's no one way to keep Salloi quiet. The only worry for Vermes is if both Salloi and Russell have an off-night, the goals dry up a little elsewhere - especially with Alan Pulido out for the foreseeable.
Too many times, SKC are cut open on the counter thanks to an immobile midfield and thus far, little has been done in the transfer market to rectify that issue. So, a lot of responsibility for closing the back door lands on the center-backs.
He's only 20 years old, but Robert Voloder will hope to adjust quickly to life in MLS in order to win his place in the starting XI. The defender comes with a decent amount of pedigree at youth level for both Germany and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as at club level in Slovenia with Maribor.
Known best for his success in one-on-one duels and precision passing, Voloder has the potential to solve a few problems in defense for Vermes.
Sporting Kansas City 2022 season prediction
Normally, the loss of someone like Pulido would be a disaster for a team. But SKC have good replacement options in that position and wingers capable of matching the Mexican's goal output individually, let alone combined.
And Vermes has also strengthened the backline enough to suggest a lot of their problems in transition could go away.
SKC will remain susceptible in one-off games, but are underrated enough and powerful enough in the final third to get it done week after week over the course of a 34-game regular-season.
Prediction: 1st in the Western Conference