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Sporting Kansas City to face thriving LAFC, Ilie Sanchez on Sunday

MLS Timbers LAFC Soccer
Posted at 6:30 PM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 19:30:18-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For nine seasons since 2009, Sporting Kansas City center back Andreu Fontas and Los Angeles FC defensive midfielder Ilie Sanchez have played for the same organization.

That includes the last four years with Sporting KC, so it’ll be quite odd for Fontas at 3 p.m. Sunday at LAFC to see Sanchez in an opposing jersey.

“Very strange,” Fontas said. “I think it will be the first time that we’ve played against (each other). I’m pretty sure about that. Obviously, it will be strange, especially after last year, which I think was our best year together.”

Fontas and Sanchez are both from Spain and spent time with Barcelona, including five overlapping seasons.

Fontas played in 72 matches for Barcelona B from 2008-11 and appeared in eight games with Barcelona from 2009-13, while Sanchez was featured in 114 matches for Barca B from 2009-14.

One year after Sanchez’s arrival in Kansas City in 2017, Fontas joined the club and broke through as a starting center back last season.

Then came late November, when Sporting KC — in one of the more surprising offseason moves — declined a 2022 contract option for defensive midfielder Ilie Sanchez, allowing him to become a free agent.

He had been a staple of Sporting KC’s lineup for the previous five seasons — with nine goals and nine assists in 153 appearances, including 143 starts, during the regular season and MLS Cup playoffs.

The 31-year-old Sanchez’s rising age and relatively pricey contract caused Sporting to move on — which he did this season to LAFC, where he has thrived in the first month of the season.

Sanchez made the MLS Best XI for the opening month of the season and has helped LAFC (4-1-1) rise to the top of the Western Conference standings.

“I’m happy for him, because I know that he’s doing great there, but obviously it was a huge loss for us as a team and also for me personally,” Fontas said. “But again, I wish him all the success in the world — but not this weekend. This weekend, I want to beat him and win the game. After that, I’ll wish him all the luck that he deserves.”

Sporting KC — which has two wins, including zero points from four road matches this season, and only five goals in seven games this season — could desperately use a result, but it won’t be easy. Sanchez plans to make sure of it.

“Obviously, it’s a team I know very well — the players, their coach, the coaching staff — and I will try to take advantage of that,” Sanchez said on a recent LAFC podcast. “Knowing that it’s not going to be easy because emotions are going to be there. But when you know somebody, you know their strengths, but also their weaknesses.”

Regardless of the outcomes, there won’t be any hard feelings.

“Ilie was a great person and great player for this club for the years that he was here,” Sporting KC Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes said. “He always had a tremendous mentality and attitude. I can’t say anything but great things about him.

“In all parts of his life, I hope that it always goes well. I really do. He’s a great guy, a good human being. And I’ll be happy to see him. I hope that he doesn’t have a great night on Sunday, but I really wish the best for that guy.”

Roster move coming?

After formally parting ways with Argentinian midfielder Jose Mauri, Sporting Kansas City is on the hunt for a new piece to add to the roster — and possibly to fill a now-vacant international spot on that roster.

Vermes confirmed Friday that Sporting KC would like to add a player, possibly by the early May deadline — though it gets tricky with most other international leagues deep into their season and players in those leagues eyeing the offseason.

Sporting might have to wait until the summer transfer window to fill Mauri’s empty international roster spot.

And it won’t necessarily be used on a midfielder.

“We have multiple positions that we’re looking for, so it’s really going to come down to the best player, person, financial situation based on a position,” Vermes said.