2023 Sporting Kansas City season preview

Sporting Kansas City’s 2023 season debut is just days away. After an atypical 2022 season that saw SKC finish 12th in the Western Conference and miss the playoffs for only the second time since the name change, the team is looking to build on the momentum it saw in the final ten games of the season with Willy Agada and Erik Thommy had led the team to a strong finish. The 2022 team has scored 42 goals, including 23 in their last ten games. Defensively, the team conceded 54 goals and was particularly vulnerable to counterattacks. What awaits us in 2023?

Peter Vermes and Brian Bliss did very little to get the roster into the season.


Centre-back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin left in the open and returned to Europe.

Defensive midfielder Uri Rosell was dropped and now plays for the LA Galaxy.

Homegrown centre-back Kaveh Rad left free agency and signed with Hartford Athletic.

Jose Mauri…. made a 27-minute cameo in the season opener and was immediately cut. His career has been mild since his departure.


Sporting KC added Nemanja Radoja, a Serbian defensive midfielder who has played in La Liga for almost his entire career.

The team also added left-back Tim Leibold from Germany.

After Kortne Ford’s season-ending injury, Sporting signed draft pick Chris Rindov and USL journeyman Robert Castellanos, both central defenders.

According to Vermes, the team is currently pursuing another centre-back.


The designated player, Alan Pulido, is recovering from surgery in 2022 and should be healthy enough to compete a few weeks into the season. When he’s healthy, Pulido is a great player who acts somewhere between a real striker and an attacking midfielder. (A 9.5 if you will). He drops low to collect the ball and drags defenders all over the field. Pulido’s passing range is strong and he can put Russell and Salloi in dangerous positions with balls.

Pulido’s main rival in the 9 is Willy Agada. Agada arrived mid-season from the Israeli Premier League and scored eight goals in ten starts for SKC. Agada represents something very different from Pulido. He makes clever runs and finds room in the box to collect crosses and rebounds. The underlying data suggests that Agada’s form from 2022 is very reproducible and he should be dangerous in 2023.

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Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell are the suspected starters on the wing. They are known entities for the team. Marinos Tzionis, a U-22 Initiative player in his second year, and Khiry Shelton will support Russell and Salloi on the wings. In addition, Erik Thommy can play on the left wing if necessary.

Overall, the team has plenty of offensive talent. Each of the Russell, Salloi, Agada and Pulido are capable of scoring 10+ goals in a season.

midfield player

As usual, Sporting will field the double 8’s in midfield with a single defensive midfielder in support. Erik Thommy and Remi Walter are expected to start the season in double-eights, while Gadi Kinda is recovering from his 2022 season-ending injury. Thommy plays much more of an 8/10 hybrid role as more of an offensive threat comes from the left. Thommy was a key part of the late-season run for Sporting and is a designated player in 2023.

Remi Walter has shown that he can attack and score in midfield but also plays as a defensive midfielder. He’s capable of stopping plays through the middle and is a true box-to-box midfielder. In support, Sporting KC will have Felipe Hernandez, who had a breakthrough in the 2022 season, and veteran Roger Espinoza. Homegrown, Cam Duke is another profound piece that has shown flashes of brilliance but has limited potential.

Defensive midfielder Radoja is likely to lose. A seasoned defensive midfielder with years of experience, he gives Walter the opportunity to play further up the pitch. However, Remi Walter’s flexibility allows the club to rotate when necessary as he played a significant number of minutes from the ‘6’ in 2022. If Radoja can live up to the hype, he will provide the centre-backs with the cover they need.

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The real question is how he will play the position. Over the years, the 6 has alternated between being a deep-lying playmaker (Gianluca Busio), a passing machine (Ilie and Uri 1.0) and more of a destroyer (Soni Mustivar). Ilie often acted as a 3rd centre-back in his early years where he would drop between the centre-backs and allow them to spread further. This allowed the full-backs to push the field further up and help in attack. If Radoja can cover effectively, it could happen again, allowing Sporting to throw more numbers up front in attack.


Graham Zusi is back for another season. He ceded a few minutes to local Kayden Pierre, who showed real potential, particularly with his progressive runs on the field. The only question for the right-back is: how healthy can Zusi be and how much will Pierre be allowed to rotate?

Tim Leibold is an attacking left-back who has been deployed at left flank to compete with U-22 newcomer Logan Ndenbe and MLS veteran Ben Sweat. Leibold has some strong attacking powers from Germany’s second division, so it’s clear the team believe he can help in attack from wide positions.

The centre-back poses the biggest question mark for Sporting KC in 2023. Andreu Fontas is back for another season. In the last two years he has been close to the top of the league in goals added (g+), meaning he has contributed to more goals than most other players. On the other hand, after a strong 2021, Fontas had a defensive relapse in 2022. Carelessness and missteps resulted in a few goals early in the season.

His partner in defense is German U-22 player Robert Voloder. Voloder saw little action in 2022 but was signed as an Under-22 player, indicating the team believe he has plenty of potential. If Voloder can fulfill his potential, SKC’s backline has a chance to improve from the 2022 edition. At the time of writing, their backups in central defense are Chris Rindov and Robert Castellanos. Completely unknown players who are difficult to scout and have expectations of them.

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Tim Melia had a bad year by his standards in 2022 before picking up an injury and missing the rest of the season. In his place was homegrown John Pulskamp with mixed results in goal. Pulskamp let in some howlers but also showed off some great tools that show why the team believes in him. Melia was re-signed in the off-season and this position may have the most competition in the squad.

Sporting Kansas City has largely opted to take back the 2022 team that has struggled for most of the season without two of its designated players. Pulido and Kinda should return to compete. If they can play close to their 2021 form, SKC should be very competitive. However, this side could be struggling with age, injuries and an inexperienced central defence.

This is a big year for the club, also in terms of the relationship with the fans. It’s been 10 years since the team won the MLS Cup. Fans are annoyed by increased kit prices and stagnation in the game day experience. To find out more, listen to the Shades of Blue episode on Cauldron State with Cauldronite, Zach Cobb.

For more golden boot predictions, assists and our thoughts on the team’s finish, watch the latest episode of Shades of Blue.

Let me know your thoughts on the 2023 season in the comments below. While you’re at it, please subscribe to Shades of Blue where you can hear Thad Bell, Cody Bradley, Robert Russert and I talk game previews, match reactions, transfer news and just general banter.

You can find The Blue Testament wherever you get your podcasts. If you like the show, subscribe, rate and rate it! Follow Cody @ThatCodyThothad @TheBackpostand Robert @SpKCLife.

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