First things first, welcome back Benny Feilhaber! Feilhaber has joined Sporting KC as a member of the technical staff. According to Benny, he will be a part of the coaching staff on a day in day out basis, while also learning and contributing in other areas such as scouting. Unlike some MLS clubs, Sporting KC has a rich 25 year history and it is great to see them continue to bring former players like Paulo Nagamura and Bennie Feilhaber back into the organization. I have no doubt Bennie will be tremendous addition to the staff and I look forward to seeing how his coaching career progresses.
In addition, since my last post, SKC formally announced the signing of Remi Walter and the re-signing of Roger Espinoza. Peter Vermes also updated Felipe Gutierrez’s status saying that the club had made an offer and the ball was now in his court. Undoubtedly that offer was for less than the $1.6 mln or so that Gutierrez was earning on his previous contract, so it will interesting to see if the Chilean midfielder returns or not. TBD.
Conversely the door appears to have closed on Gerso returning and Vermes has indicated that the club is looking for a replacement winger. The final question is the status of Gianluca Busio. It has been a historic transfer window for MLS homegrowns and rumors have continued to swirl around Busio. Those rumors have been far less concrete than those around other players who have or are rumored to be moving and I’ve seen nothing on twitter or elsewhere that would lead me to believe anything is imminent. As I wrote previously, I think another year at Sporting would improve not only Busio’s game, but his value and with it looking somewhat likely that Gutierrez is not returning, the keys to the offense could be his.
Rumors also continue to swirl around the club signing Norwegian center back, Stein Gregersen, but nothing has been announced. Whether it is Gregersen or not, the club needs to hit on a center back signing or two to remain near the top of the Western Conference.
Sporting KC signed three more homegrowns bringing the total number on the first team roster to an impressive eleven. Other MLS academies like RBNY and FC Dallas get more love, but SKC has been prioritizing theirs for years. They’ve invested heavily in their facilities, academy, USL team and scouting. That investment is beginning to pay off as a regular conveyor belt of talent to the first team is churning and this is another impressive class.
First up is Grayson Barber, a dynamic attacking midfielder who spent the last three seasons with the Clemson Tigers. Barber is well known to SKC fans as he joined the Sporting academy way back in 2015 out of South Carolina. He logged nearly 60 appearances at the U16 and U18 level and was a member of the US U17 residency program before heading back to South Carolina for college.
Barber started 11 times as a freshman for Clemson and was solid in his debut season, but he absolutely exploded in his sophomore campaign scoring 10 goals and adding 9 assists in just 21 games for a Clemson team that finished with an 18-2-2 mark and made a run to the quarters in the NCAA tournament. Off the strength of that season, I thought Barber might make the jump to MLS, but he returned for his junior campaign instead. Unfortunately Covid-19 significantly shortened Clemson’s fall season, however, Barber was fantastic again in 2020. He led the nation with 7 assists and added 3 goals in just 11 games while leading his team to an ACC championship and an 8-2-1 record. In all, over the course of his last two seasons at Clemson Barber notched 13 goals and 16 assists in just 32 games.
Barber is an attacking player in the truest since of the word. He loves to go at people. Neither are perfect comps, but he reminds me a lot of Paxton Pomykal and Dax McCarty in that respect. He’s fearless and has some serious sauce to his game. It is going to take him some time to adjust to MLS, but it would not shock me to see him have an impact in 2021. Even if Gutierrez does not return, SKC has a deep midfield, so minutes will be hard to come by, but Barber can play at the MLS level, no doubt. I could see him having an Anthony Fontana like season and then pushing for a bigger role if and when Busio is sold to Europe.
The next member of the trio is 16 year old Osvaldo “Ozzie” Cisneros who is the 4th-youngest signing in SKC history. Cisneros joined SKC at the tender age of 12 back in 2016 and has been a standout from the jump. His play elevated him into the USYNT player pool and he was a standout in 2018/19 with the U-15s, scoring 4 goals in 10 matches (source: Transfermarkt) including a brace against Cost Rica in the U15 CONCACAF championship in 2019 (video below). Cisneros can play multiple spots and he may ultimately be the prize of this class of homegrowns. However, he still some room to grow and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him spend 2021 seasoning in USL.
Rounding out the trio is 18-year-old goalkeeper Brooks Thompson. Again, Thompson will be a familiar name to SKC fans having already become the youngest professional signing in SKC II history as a 16-year-old back in March of 2019. At 6’3” Thompson is a big athletic shot stopper and he shown at the USL level where he was one of the best young keepers in the league. Tim Melia is entrenched as SKC‘s number one keeper and Sporting also have another young keeper in USYNT goalkeeper John Pulskamp, however, Thompson is an excellent prospect and could be the future at the position for SKC.
After signing the above trio of homegrowns, the 2021 MLS draft was a bit anticlimactic for SKC. They didn’t exactly go the route of the Philadelphia Union and trade away all of their picks, however, they definitely given greater priority to their homegrowns in recent years and they traded away their first round pick ahead of last season as part of the deal that brought Erik Hurtado to Kansas City. That said, they did make make a second and third round pick in the draft. Both were college seniors and both are long shots to make the team and look more likely to be headed to SKC II. That said, 6’6” North Carolina center back Matt Constant might have an outside shot at a roster spot given KC’s current lack of depth at CB. The other pick, taken with the 77th overall selection, was Jamil Roberts out of Marshall by way of Langport, England. Congratulations to both.
I’ll continue to check in with my thoughts on the team and the league as the season approaches (hopefully) and as always, you can follow me on twitter @MLS_Box2Box