It’s safe to say that several weeks, months, even years from now, the Sporting Kansas City Academy will look back on the first weekend of June 2018 as a crowning breakthrough for the program.
Look no further than Sporting KC’s 4-1 dismantling of Minnesota United FC on Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park. Three Academy products — one forward, one midfielder and one defender — made significant contributions to a victory that lifted Manager Peter Vermes’ men back to the top of the Western Conference.
Daniel Salloi, a rapidly improving 21-year-old who joined the Sporting KC Academy in 2014 and signed as a Homegrown in 2016, curled home a long-range stunner to give his side a lead in the ninth minute.
Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, a cerebral 19-year-old who is the first player to progress from the Academy to the Swope Park Rangers to the first team, came off the bench in the 18th minute and bagged his first Sporting KC goal — just a week after making his club and MLS debut, no less. In doing so, he became the team’s second-youngest goal scorer in regular season play. Furthermore, Kuzain completed 32 of his 33 passes in 72 minutes of action, mirroring his USL-leading 90.4-percent passing accuracy clip for the Swope Park Rangers in 2017.
And last but certainly not least, 18-year-old fullback Jaylin Lindsey entered in the 60th minute for his Sporting KC and MLS debut. The defender was lively and involved, finishing with 34 touches and completing 27 of 29 passes in a proactive half-hour.
Throw it all together, and it was more than enough for Vermes to reflect upon with great pride after the match.
“What I am probably most proud of, years ago, I sat with (principal owners) Cliff Illig and Michael Illig about this idea of the player enterprise and the pro pathway in our club," Vermes said. "So Kuzain was obviously in our Academy. We signed him to a Swope Park Rangers contract. He progressed very fast, and we thought he was worthy of a first team contract. He gets a first team contract, and here he is, stepping into his second game in a row. He not only has major minutes, but scores a goal. He has the confidence and ability to play at this level at 19. He was big time.
“Then you throw (Jaylin) Lindsey in there, and he’s not in the position he usually plays — he’s a right back, not a left back — but we had that much confidence in him and I thought he was tremendous. He has great instincts for the game, and it was excellent. Great to see.”
The 20,422 fans in attendance on Sunday would likely agree: the player pathway Vermes alluded to was on full display, with the Academy's labor bearing fruit at the MLS level.
SPORTING KC'S YOUNGEST GOAL SCORERS
(ALL-TIME, MLS REGULAR SEASON)
|19 years, 0 days
|W 3-1 vs. Portland Timbers
|19 years, 262 days
|W 4-1 vs. Minnesota United FC
|19 years, 266 days
|W 3-0 vs. Toronto FC
|20 years, 56 days
|W 2-1 vs. Toronto FC
|20 years, 134 days
|T 2-2 at Orlando City SC
|20 years, 137 days
|W 1-0 at Columbus Crew SC
|20 years, 146 days
|W 6-0 vs. New York Red Bulls
|21 years, 80 days
|W 4-2 at D.C. United
|21 years, 243 days
|W 2-0 vs. Miami Fusion
|21 years, 266 days
|T 3-3 at Columbus Crew SC
It should be noted, however, that Sunday’s MLS matchup wasn’t the only game this weekend in which Sporting KC Academy players competed beyond their years.
On Saturday, the Sporting KC U-19s, U-17s and U-15s ended their U.S. Soccer Development Academy regular season campaigns while the Swope Park Rangers traveled east to face rivals Saint Louis FC. Upward player movement was showcased in each of the four games, pointing to the impressive development curve instilled by Vermes, SPR head coach Paulo Nagamura, Academy Director Jon Parry, U-17/19 head coach Rumba Munthali and a host of other coaches at the club.
After excelling for Sporting KC in recent weeks, four current Academy players will now have the opportunity to represent U.S. youth national teams. Duke has joined the U.S. U-18s for a training camp at Pinnacle here in Kansas City, while defenders Mitchell Ferguson, Michael Lenis and Kayden Pierre have joined the U.S. U-16s to train in Bradenton, Florida.
And while it was indeed a weekend to remember for the Sporting KC Academy, the first team had more than enough to smile about as well.
In addition to brandishing its youth movement, Sporting KC flexed its depth as Sunday marked the second time in club history that two substitutes scored for the team in the same MLS match. Kuzain struck 17 minutes after his introduction, while Diego Rubio was on the field for just three minutes before firing home to make the score 4-1 on 81 minutes.
After receiving just two goals from substitutes during the entire 2017 regular season, Sporting KC leads MLS this year with six goals from off the bench.
GOALS FROM SUBSTITUTES
(2018 MLS REGULAR SEASON)
|Goals from subs
|Sporting Kansas City
|New York Red Bulls
|Atlanta United FC
Orlando City SC
Real Salt Lake
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
To round out this edition of Beyond the Box Score, we depart from the narratives of youth and depth, saving space for a club legend.
Captain Matt Besler, a regular starter along Vermes’ backline for the last 10 seasons, logged his 240th regular season appearance for the club on Sunday night. That ties the all-time Sporting KC record held by Davy Arnaud, meaning the Kansas City native could break the record Saturday against the Portland Timbers.
MOST APPEARANCES FOR SPORTING KC
(ALL-TIME, MLS REGULAR SEASON)
Sporting KC will now prepare for pivotal two-game road trip that begins Wednesday with a trip to rivals Real Salt Lake in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round. Vermes’ men enter the tournament as reigning Open Cup champions and will begin their title defense in the round of 32, with kickoff set for 9 p.m. CT at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The club will then travel further west for the resumption of the MLS regular season, locking horns with the Timbers at 9:30 p.m. CT Saturday at Providence Park in Portland.