The 2023 MLS Next Pro season came to an end on Sunday with Sporting Kansas City II winning a penalty kick shootout over cross-state rivals St. Louis City SC 2 on Decision Day. The win propelled SKC II to a guaranteed home playoff game where they will pick their opponent (from the 4th through 7th seeds) today.
With the end of the regular season, it feels like a good time to look back on how the team performed. Not just in terms of records, but also how the first team loanees did as well as who may be ready to come up to the first team in 2024.
Record: 13-9-6-4 (49 points)
The fourth number is shoot out wins, of which Sporting KC went four of six to get four bonus points in the standings. Their 49 points was an 18-point improvement over their inaugural 2022 MLS Next Pro season. There were four more games on the schedule in 2023.
Standings: 3rd Place (of 14) in the Western Conference
Sporting KC II were also 7th of the 27 teams that placed in 2023 across the country. They were only bested by the Colorado Rapids 2, Crown Legacy FC (Charlotte), Tacoma Defiance (Seattle), New England Revolution II, Columbus Crew 2 and RBNY2.
Goals: 60 for, 42 against (+18)
Stand Out Players
Pau Vidal – There is no better place to start than with SKC II’s starting striker. The 21-year-old led the team in goals (11) and probably would have extended that lead if not for a stretch of missed games due to injury. The Villarreal youth product was always a threat to score when he was on the pitch, and he provided a level of size that neither the first nor second team have seen in a center forward in years.
Ethan Bryant – The midfielder was second on the team in scoring with eight goals and added three assists and had an astounding 48 key passes (the team lead). He burst into Kansas City fans conscience when he appeared on loan from the IIs with the first team in the US Open Cup. The 22-year-old arrived from the Richmond Kickers for a transfer fee and looks like a future first team contributor.
Alenis Vargas – The 19-year-old winger turned fill-in center forward emerged late in the season as quite the goal threat. He’s tied for third on the team with six goals and has added another five assists. He’s currently on loan from the weirdly named Futbol Consultants Desamparados out of the Costa Rica second division. Hopefully there is a purchase option as he shows immense promise and would bring some much-needed pace to the first team if he made the jump.
Lucas Rosa – The 26-year-old rookie is by far the team leader in minutes. The Brazilian is a midfielder converted to right back (sounds familiar), but he brings a level of attacking play missing in Jake Davis. He has four goals and five assists and often takes the dangerous free kick opportunities for the team. He’s a name that coach Feilhaber consistently brings up as ready to contribute to the first team.
Sebastian Cruz – The 23-year-old winger went away to college and returned to sign a second team deal. He has an endless motor and consistently finds himself in dangerous positions through hustle plays. He’s a little undersized but had managed to contribute five goals and two assists across 18 starts (22 appearances).
Nati Clarke – Long thought to be the left back of the future, Clarke is now 18 years old and coming into his own. He’s small but has incredible pace and athleticism. In his first couple games he looked in over his head, but he soon settled down to be the regular starter at LB with 18 starts (19 appearances) and 1,589 minutes. He hasn’t scored yet but did tally two assists.
Josh Coan – Often wearing the captain’s armband, the 25-year-old Coan was definitely brought in for his “veteran” leadership. He was the team’s designated penalty kick taker scoring four of his six goals on PKs. But he also pulled the strings, mostly from the midfield but sometimes as a winger, tallying a team leading eight assists.
First Team Contributions
Something that hasn’t happened a ton in recent seasons, either due to injury or COVID, is consistent loans from the first team. That changed in 2023 with 9,015 minutes being contributed by first team loanees. Four players — Chris Rindov, Ozzie Cisneros, Danny Flores and Cam Duke — broke 1,000 minutes. The loanees added 12 goals, nine assists and accounted for 130 appearances (103 starts).
Despite all the loans and minutes, no one played out of their mind while on loan. John Pulskamp was a steady presence in net for his nine starts (second on the team behind the only rostered SKC II keeper, Ethan Bandre). Despite Bandre playing five more games than Pulskamp, he trailed him only by one win, taking all the points in three of his nine appearances.
Ozzie Cisneros never played for the first team (yet) in 2023, but he’s regularly on the field. Cam Duke and Danny Flores got significant minutes, but it was Felipe Hernandez who bagged two goals and three assists in just nine appearances (seven starts) and only 591 minutes played. Jake Davis made some early season appearances before (rightfully) heading to the first team to contribute on a regular basis.
The three backup center backs on the first team, Robbie Voloder, Robert Castellanos and Chris Rindov all got into games with the II’s with varying degrees of success and missteps.
Here are the full stats for the first team guys on loan.
Full Team Stats
For more comprehensive stats, you can head over to the team’s page, but here are a few of the key stats, sorted by minutes played to push the kids on loan from the Academy who never played or barely played way down the list.