KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sporting Kansas City finished second in MLS last season with a Western Conference-leading 58 goals scored in 2021.
That’s excellent news for a club that’s been goal-challenged at different times during Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes’ highly successful tenure.
Dániel Sallói, a 2021 MLS MVP finalist, and Johnny Russell, a Scottish international coming off the most productive season of his professional career, return at the left and right winger spots, respectively.
Sallói scored a team-high 16 goals last season, which was tied for the most since Dom Dwyer had 23 for Sporting KC in 2014, while Russell recorded 15 goals — two more than he had for Dundee United in the Scottish Premier League in 2012-13, his previous career-best.
Both Sallói and Russell added seven assists apiece, but not all the news is so rosy.
Sporting KC announced last month that striker Alan Pulido, who contributed eight of those goals despite being limited to 21 games last season, will be sidelined after an offseason knee surgery.
That puts added pressure on Khiry Shelton to return to form as he’s likely to play most of the minutes at center forward for Sporting KC.
Shelton had only three goals in 31 matches, including 25 starts last season, after racking up five goals in 20 appearances, including 17 starts in 2020.
“I don’t trust anybody more (than Shelton),” Vermes said. “He is, in so many ways, the perfect fit in that position — works so hard, makes opportunities for all the other guys around him and is incredible defensively in that position, which is not the normal thing to say about a No. 9. He’s such a great teammate.”
Sallói also can play at center forward in a pinch.
Still, Vermes conceded that Sporting KC must add another center forward — a move the club expects to announce early next week — with a truncated schedule because of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in November.
“We’re not going to replace Alan,” Vermes said. “We’re just going to continue to try to add players that are going to help us be successful.”
Vermes didn’t tip his hand about who the next player will be, but he previously said a center forward who fits Sporting KC’s style — which requires a player willing to play defense, play with their back to goal and can finish — is a priority.
“That’s why it’s not an easy position to find, but I believe we will find something that will help the team no doubt,” Vermes said.
Former U.S. Men’s National Team star Jozy Altidore reportedly turned down an offer to join Sporting KC, which also pursued but failed to land Mexican striker José Juan Macías from Chivas.
Pulido will miss at least the entire 2022 season after he underwent “a microfracture-type procedure” on his knee Jan. 17. He rejoined Sporting KC in Phoenix after the surgery.
“The doctors said everything went well and they felt really good about it,” Vermes said. “Now, he’s on the road to recovery.”
Sporting KC also recalled Tyler Freeman from his loan to Karlsruher SC. He appeared in four matches for the German club U19 team.
The club also expects Marinos Tzionis, a 20-year-old winger acquired via transfer from Omonia Nicosia in his native Cyprus, to receive his visa and join the team next week.
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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