Guess who’s starting in goal for Sporting Kansas City on Saturday? Hint: he’s just 19

Shaun Goodwin
·4 min read

Name a more iconic Major League Soccer duo than Sporting Kansas City and injuries.

Over the past couple of seasons, the two have almost become synonymous. And now, just two days before Sporting’s first game of the season, SKC has been hit with yet another blow.

KC coach Peter Vermes confirmed Thursday that three — yes, three — of the club’s four goalkeepers will be out injured for the team’s opener against New York Red Bulls Saturday.

Starter Tim Melia, as well as backups Kendall McIntosh and Brooks Thompson, are all sidelined.

McIntosh is unavailable because of an eye injury and is expected to return within a week or two, while Thompson has suffered a lower back injury that will keep him out until the summer. Thompson’s back injury is different from the one he suffered in 2019 that sidelined him for four months.

Melia is out of action with a chest injury but Vermes expects him to be ready for selection “over the next few weeks” and that his injury is short-term.

The club’s only healthy goalkeeper, and therefore Saturday’s starter, is 19-year-old John Pulskamp. The young keeper will be making his MLS debut in Red Bull Arena.

“I have all the confidence in the world in John,” Vermes said. “I think it’s amazing when I look at him sometimes that he’s 19 years old — the kid’s a beast. He’s incredibly competitive, very confident, and he should be because he’s actually got incredible tools.”

The club also announced Thursday that it had signed 24-year-old goalkeeper Parker Siegried on loan from USL Championship side Louisville City FC. Sporting KC acquired Siegfried’s college protected rights from New York City FC in exchange for a natural third-round pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft.

Siegfried signed a one-year semi-guaranteed contract, meaning that both his parent club, Louisville, and Sporting KC can terminate his contract at any point and he can return to Louisville.

More than likely, he will remain with Sporting KC as an emergency backup until the club’s goalkeeper corps returns to full fitness, then return to Louisville.

McIntosh is unavailable due to an eye injury and is expected to return within a week or two. Although the injuries to Thompson and Melia weren’t disclosed, Vermes expects Melia to be ready for selection “over the next few weeks” and that his injury is short-term.

The club will also be without outside backs Amadou Dia and Graham Zusi Saturday, while Alan Pulido is available but not “90-minute fit” following an injury sustained while he was with the Mexico national team.

The slew of injuries — both in timing and personnel involved — could not be much worse for Kansas City.

Heading into the season, the Red Bulls are a team in a similar position. Although most would expect both teams to be middle-of-the-pack this season, there’s belief in both camps that they can far exceed those expectations.

“I think it would have been tough for us to come up against a more difficult opponent in the first game of the season than them,” Vermes admitted Thursday.

It’s expected that New York will play a high-intensity pressing game under new coach Gerhald Struber. And while that may be all well and good under normal circumstances, this isn’t normal circumstances.

For starters, KC’s keeper will be making his MLS debut in a road game at a longtime rival that will be welcoming fans into the stadium for the first time since March 2020.

And unless Vermes opts for safety and familiarity due to the circumstances, Sporting KC will perhaps also be handing MLS debuts to midfielder Remi Walter and defender Nicolas Isimat-Mirin.

The pair of Frenchmen have to make their MLS debuts eventually, but doing so on the road against a high-pressing team with a rookie goalkeeper as the last line of defense may not be the ideal time to do so.

Then again, Pulskamp isn’t your typical teenage rookie.

Standing at a stocky 6-foot-4, Pulskamp earned his stripes with the L.A. Galaxy’s academy team before arriving in Kansas City. He started 14 matches in the 2019 USL Championship season for Sporting KC II, keeping two clean sheets and posting a 4-8-2 record.

Midfielder Gianluca Busio said that Pulskamp isn’t afraid to use his voice to direct his teammates. Veteran Roger Espinoza has described him as a technical and smart player.

“He’ll do a lot of good things and he’s ready to step up,” Busio said. “I’ve seen a lot from him playing some Swope (Park Rangers) games with him, and I think this game he’s really going to step forward and show what he can do.”

Because of Dia and Zusi’s injuries, Jaylin Lindsey will likely start on the right and Luis Martins on the left side of the defense.

And if either of them gets injured before or during the game? Well, Sporting KC fans are used to that by now.