KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s been years since Oriol Rosell patrolled the midfield for Sporting Kansas City, but he returns to anchor the middle of the pitch after four-year stints with Portugal and Orlando City SC.
Rosell, better known as “Uri,” replaces Ilie Sanchez as Sporting KC’s defensive midfielder, but he “hasn’t missed a step” in assimilating back into the club’s culture.
“He’s evolved, no doubt,” Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes said of Rosell. “He’s older, he’s more mature, he’s got more experience (and) he’s more savvy. He was a lot of those things when he left, but he’s just got a lot more of it.”
The club also re-signed Roger Espinoza and brought back Rémi Walter, who project as the starting central midfielders, while Gadi Kinda returns as the attacking midfielder.
Kinda will miss at least the first month of the season and perhaps a bit longer, depending on his conditioning, after minor offseason knee surgery.
Sporting KC feels confident with its veteran trio of Rosell, Espinoza and Walter — who played nine seasons in France, including six in French Ligue 1, and one in the Turkish Süper Lig before coming to the MLS last season — but there’s no ready-made replacement for Kinda.
“It’s going to be game to game,” Vermes said.
Felipe Hernandez has returned from his months-long suspension for gambling on MLS games, and he may factor into the attacking-midfield mix, but Vermes offered up a Homegrown Player as a possible alternative to soak up those early-season minutes.
“Cam Duke is actually in pretty good form,” Vermes said. “He’s made a little bit of a jump since last season already, and that’s what I want to see from guys when they come back.”
Duke, a 20-year-old Overland Park native, has appeared in 24 games during the last two seasons for Sporting KC. He scored his first two career MLS goals in 16 appearances, including six starts, last season.
That experience helped propel Duke into the 2022 season with a fresh mindset, transitioning from a deferential young player to more of a veteran.
“A lot of times, it’s a step forward mentally,” Vermes said. “They have a little bit more edge to them. They’re taking the initiative more on the field.”
Spelling Espinoza, who logged more than 2,000 minutes last season for the first time since 2018, will be key to keeping the midfield in top form.
That’s where last season’s late signing, José Mauri, could help. Vermes said he fits in as a central or defensive midfielder.
The Argentinian-born veteran of Italy’s Serie A and Argentina’s Superliga was thrown into the deep end of the pool after joining the club last year, but he’s adjusting well so far in the camp.
“He’s been working hard and he’s going to have to figure into that because he can play two positions,” Vermes said. “He can play as the 8 or the 6, so he’s going to have to be ready for either role when called upon.”
RELATED | Goalkeepers: Veteran Tim Melia brings stability in goal
RELATED | Defenders: SKC’s defensive depth gets churn
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