KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Among the six new signings this offseason for Sporting Kansas City, four have been defenders and a fifth — the re-signing of Oriol “Uri” Rosell — was a defensive midfielder.
That seems to make clear what Sporting KC’s priority was entering 2022.
Starting centerbacks Andreu Fontàs and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin return and the club re-signed veteran and future Sporting KC Hall of Famer Graham Zusi at right back, but Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes churned the rest of the depth.
“It goes without saying, having consistency and the continuity between players in the back line and the goalkeeper (is good), but it’s only important when they’re playing well and getting clean sheets,” Vermes said. “If they’re consistently poor, obviously you’ve got to change something.”
Now, Vermes believes he has better options to cover for injuries and keep the defense like a fortress.
Vermes also brought in two new players to compete for time at left back — Logan Ndenbe, a rising youth international standout from Belgium, and MLS veteran Ben Sweat, who is working his way back from a torn ACL suffered in April 2021.
Kayden Pierre projects as the reserve right back after Jaylin Lindsey was traded to expansion side Charlotte FC.
“Everyone has come in with the right attitude and understands we have to learn the culture and the style of play we want to play,” Melia said.
Sporting KC decided not to bring back Luis Martins or Amadou Dia after the 2021 season, so left back was the biggest question mark most of the offseason.
Sweat, who Vermes said is taller than normal for the position, brings five years of MLS experience to the roster, while Ndenbe is a strong and explosive prospect with a good soccer IQ and on-ball skills.
“For me, this is probably the best tandem we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Vermes said. “It’s about us building both guys into the team, so they feel comfortable with the team and we feel comfortable with them.”
Goalkeeper Tim Melia likes what he’s seen so far. He said Sweat “continues to get better” from a health and system-assimilation perspective each day, while Ndenbe shows promising flashes.
“He’s incredibly athletic,” Melia said of Ndenbe. “He’s the type of player who wants to bomb up and down the sideline. He’s got good feet.”
Rosell spent three seasons (2012-14) with Sporting KC before moving on to Portugal for four seasons. He returned to MLS the last four years with Orlando City SC.
“Uri’s just an impressive player,” Melia said. “He seems revitalized almost to be back with the club with something to prove. He knows the culture from day one and he’s been very good as well.”
No pressure, but Vermes has sky-high expectations — like he does every season — for Sporting KC’s defense.
“My expectation is to always be in the top three in goals-against every year,” Vermes said. “I think it’s a really important building block for our team. If you’re going to win in this league, especially down the stretch, you’ve got to be good defensively.”
The club last finished in the top three in MLS in goals-against average in 2018.
Sporting Kansas City roster breakdown
Kendall McIntosh, Tim Melia and John Pulskamp
Andreu Fontàs, Kortne Ford, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Logan Ndenbe, Kayden Pierre, Kaveh Rad, Ben Sweat, Robert Voloder and Graham Zusi
Grayson Barber, Jake Davis, Cam Duke, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Hernandez, Gadi Kinda, José Mauri, Oriol Rosell and Rémi Walter
Osvaldo Cisneros, Tyler Freeman, Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell, Dániel Sallói, Khiry Shelton and Marinos Tzionis