Sporting Kansas City's 2018 campaign was a familiar one. Once again, Sporting KC was among the Western Conference powers, running to the top of the conference in the regular season. Though this season they broke a string of four straight exits in the knockout round of the MLS playoffs, once again, they fell short of MLS Cup.
Since capturing the title in 2013, Sporting KC has remained among the contenders for MLS Cup year in and year out. Each and every year, the club ranks among the best teams in the Western Conference, regardless of arrivals and departures. Sporting KC is the portrait of consistency as Peter Vermes has built it into a model club that is always contending for something.
Now, the team brings those expectations into 2019 and will attempt to compete with the league's biggest spenders, who continue to distance themselves from the pack. In an MLS that is turning into a league of haves and have nots, despite sticking to a plan and a budget, Sporting KC remains among the haves. A consistent core, wise spending and timely integration of youth have all been key for Sporting KC, a club which enters the 2019 campaign with an eye fixed on the postseason once again.
How did Sporting KC perform in 2018?
2018 finish: First in the Western Conference (18-8-8), lost to the Portland Timbers in Western Conference final.
Sporting KC finished top of the Western Conference with the third-best record in MLS before dispatching a young Real Salt Lake team 5-3 on aggregate in the conference semifinals. MLS Cup was once again a step too far, though, as Sporting KC fell on home soil to the Portland Timbers.
Sporting KC's key offseason losses
Ike Opara's departure is an obvious storyline, as the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year was traded to Minnesota United for a large haul of allocation money. That move paves the way for Andreu Fontas, who is on big money and will be expected to pair with Matt Besler to lead the back line.
Khiry Shelton's departure could also prove an impactful loss, despite the lack of goals from the forward. Shelton offered major pace and athleticism up top, allowing Sporting KC to stretch play and open up space for the rest of the group. Fellow forward Diego Rubio left as part of a trade with the Colorado Rapids after scoring eight goals and providing six assists a year ago.
Sporting KC's key offseason additions
Kelyn Rowe is a familiar face and offers Vermes another creator in the midfield. Rowe was routinely miscast during his time with the New England Revolution, but remains a top-level playmaker at the MLS level. He can play a number of positions in Vermes' system but, after being played primarily as a fullback in recent years, you can figure Rowe will be a key piece either on the wing or in midfield.
Rodney Wallace also provides another wing option after several decent seasons with New York City FC, giving Vermes an option out wide with plenty of MLS experience. Erik Hurtado, meanwhile, could play that Shelton role, using his pace to stretch the backline when SKC needs a change of pace.
Defensively, Hungarian international Botond Barath joins on a free transfer. Barath is an international teammate of Sporting KC regulars Daniel Salloi and Krisztian Nemeth.
Full Sporting KC roster entering 2018 season
Goalkeepers: Eric Dick, Tim Melia, Adrian Zendejas
Defenders: Botond Barath, Matt Besler, Andreu Fontas, Jaylin Lindsey, Jimmy Medranda, Abdul Rwatubyaye, Seth Sinovic, Graham Smith, Rodney Wallace, Graham Zusi
Midfielders: Gianluca Busio, Yohan Croizet, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez, Kelyn Rowe, Ilie Sanchez, Wan Kuzain
Forwards: Gerso Fernandes, Tyler Freeman, Erik Hurtado, Krisztian Nemeth, Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi
Sporting KC's projected starting lineup
The lineup will almost certainly be a familiar one for Sporting KC, which can certainly rely on continuity heading into the 2019 campaign.
In goal, Melia provides a steady hand as he has done for the past several seasons, while Zusi and Besler remain the heart and soul of the group on the back line. If pressure is on anyone, it’s on Fontas, who will look to justify both his heavy salary and the Opara trade as he officially becomes the unquestioned starter.
Sporting KC has one of the deepest midfields in the league, offering Vermes a number of high-quality options. Gutierrez, Sanchez and Espinoza have all proven to be high-level players in MLS, while Rowe and Croizet can provide creativity in certain situations. There's also youngster Gianluca Busio, who should push for more minutes this season at age 16.
Up front, the question remains the same: can the club get production from their No. 9? That responsibility falls on the shoulders of Nemeth, who is back with the club after making his return late last season. Nemeth scored 11 goals in 28 appearances in his first stint in Kansas City, and he'll be the one tasked with leading the line once again. There are other goal-scoring options in Fernandes, Russell and Salloi, but Vermes and co. have bet big on Nemeth being an answer up top.
Sporting KC's national TV coverage
- LAFC vs. Sporting KC - Sunday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
- FC Cincinnati vs. Sporting KC - Sunday, April 7, at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Sporting KC vs. New York Red Bulls - Sunday, April 14, at 6 p.m. ET on FS1
- Sporting Kansas City vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, May 5, at 9 p.m. ET on FS1
- D.C. United vs. Sporting KC - Sunday, May 12, at 6 p.m. ET on FS1
- Sporting KC vs. Seattle Sounders - Sunday, May 26, 5 p.m. ET on FS1
- New York City FC vs. Sporting KC - Friday, July 28, 6:30 p.m. ET on FS1
- Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC - Sunday, August 4, 9:00 p.m. ET on FS1
- Sporting KC vs. Minnesota United - Thursday, August 22, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN