Jake Davis finding his way for Sporting KC in surprise role: ‘He competes for everything’

In Sporting KC’s 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders last Sunday, Jake Davis made his third straight start (in all competitions). That marked his first extended run of appearances for the first team in his career.

The 21-year-old homegrown player, originally from Rochester, Michigan, joined Sporting’s Academy Residency Program in 2017. He was primarily a midfielder, even making a U-17 national team roster.

But it’s not in the midfield where Davis has enjoyed his first run of first team-minutes with Sporting KC (1-7-3). It’s been at right-back.

“He’s been brilliant. He deserves to keep his place,” said captain Johnny Russell. “There was a lot of great performances (in Seattle), and I think he’s, probably for me, our best player on the park.”

It’s high praise coming from the captain. And he’s not wrong.

The Sounders started the match with Leo Chu on their left wing, lining up on Davis’ side. In Sporting’s matchup with Seattle in March, Chu notched four assists, with three coming directly from service against Sporting’s right defensive flank. On Sunday, those chances evaporated.

Seattle switched things up, shuffling through two or three attackers lining up against Davis. None could get through. Eventually, they switched U.S. Men’s National Team forward Jordan Morris onto that side. Morris ended up with a massive chance at the back post that was kept out thanks to the crucial intervention of who?

Yeah, you probably guessed it. Jake Davis.

Davis knew the Sounders were trying to pick on him. After all, before Sunday’s match, he’d only amassed barely over 100 minutes in MLS. Targeting the young and inexperienced player playing out of position made sense.

Davis said he was so locked in he wasn’t focused on who exactly the Sounders were switching onto his side during the match.

“I had just the same mentality,” Davis said. “No matter who it is, I’m just going to go and stop them from any danger in our box. Obviously, it’s Jordan Morris who’s a national team player, a great player. I was just determined to make sure he didn’t do anything in our box.”

Manager Peter Vermes said Davis’ play opened Sporting’s eyes — especially seeing him play so well out of his natural position.

Davis has played primarily with Sporting KC II since he was signed in 2021 and has done so as a defensive midfielder. And when Sporting had issues at left back earlier in the year, it wasn’t Davis they tried out there; it was Cam Duke.

But as the left-back position got healthy again, and both Graham Zusi and Kayden Pierre were on the injury list for a few weeks, Davis stepped up in the moment and earned his opportunity at right back, starting with Sporting’s Third Round Open Cup win against Tulsa Athletic.

What stuck out to Vermes then is what has grown apparent as he gets more minutes: competitiveness and concentration.

“He competes for everything,” Vermes said. “He doesn’t shy away from physical challenges, and the other thing is that he pays attention. He’s concentrated on the game, and he learns from little situations that occur. He learns very quickly within the game. (It) doesn’t take a week thereafter.”

Given Zusi’s 90 minutes on Wednesday, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Davis stay in the starting lineup for Sporting on Saturday night when they take on Minnesota United at Children’s Mercy Park at 7:30 p.m.

But with Zusi’s return and the eventual return of Pierre, the competition for minutes will only tighten for Davis. But he calls himself an “in-the-moment type of guy” and is ready to make the most of whatever opportunities continue to come his way.

“Coming from the Sporting Academy to the big stage, I’ve been in the moment,” Davis said. “Every chance I got in the academy? Same thing. Focused with my teammates to win the game. Second team? Same attitude. And now we’re with the first team. No matter what team I’m on, who I’m playing with, I’m just going out there and making sure I give everything to help the team win.”