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Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Sporting Kansas City

Jan 26, 2013, 5:00 PM EDT

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(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

A U.S. Open Cup trophy and an Eastern Conference regular season crown landed at formerly named Livestrong Sporting Park in 2012. But who can blame Peter Vermes and Co. (and the club’s peppy supporters) for feeling just a little unfulfilled?

Vermes, heading into his 5th season as SKC’s manager (fourth full season), has all the elements in place to make a mark on MLS yet again. It’s mostly about tinkering, tuning up and turning up the best roles for a couple of talented, experienced additions.

Sporting Kansas City seems to have a lot of upside – again. Even more perhaps if Vermes and his club can answer these questions over the next five weeks:

  • Where does Benny Feilhaber fit?

Losing midfield workhorse Roger Espinoza could have been a powerful blow but for the opportunity to scoop up Benny Feilhaber (pictured) at relatively low cost.  The U.S. international is equally as talented as Espinoza, although not the same player. Whereas Espinoza, the Honduran international who just took up with Wigan Athletic, was an industrious ball-winner who could also contribute on offense, Feilhaber is a passing and attacking specialist who can help out on defense.

Sporting Kansas City’s attack system requires loads of effort from the two central midfielders (in front of the holding man) and the wingers. Feilhaber has to show that he’s willing to put in his share of the work load, and that he’ll press, track and defend the way everyone does in Vermes’ high-energy system.

There is also a hole to fill where the departed Julio Cesar played last year, but Paulo Nagamura is a better fit there. Given the busy season ahead, they’ll need a little extra cover and will need to identify at least one more who can provide minutes in the screening role.

  • Does Bobby Convey have a role?

Convey was a big part of SKC’s big start in 2012, but injuries interrupted his progress and in the end the former U.S. international was limited to 14 starts and 18 appearances. By season’s end, he was available but not part of the regular rotation.

He’s on the books for about $215,000 this year, quite a stack of cash in MLS for someone who cannot earn regular minutes.

Convey looked like the perfect left-wing weapon when he came east in a trade from San Jose a year ago. Now, Vermes and the SKC management need to figure out if Convey can be part of the plan around Sporting Park. (It’s no longer Livestrong Sporting Park, you know.)

  • How best to configure the forward line?

There are all kinds of options along a front line that can be configured in several ways.

Incoming Argentine newcomer Claudio Bieler, a Designated Player, will presumably be front-and-center in the plan. So what are the supporting roles around them for Convey, Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong, Jacob Peterson and others?

Related to the above: Is Kamara still part of SKC, or will the big attacker be moving on? Is Bunbury healthy and set for an effective Sporting Park return? Where does Zusi best fit, tucked inside in the midfield or out wide along the front line?

Again, it’s about tinkering and arranging. That doesn’t mean the choices are easy, but they are positive choices to have.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Toronto FC

  1. crossmlk - Jan 26, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    For me the question comes down to this. Will the tilt towards offense (Feilhaber) from defense (Espinoza) in this new midfield setup negate SKC’s primary weakness (difficulty in breaking down bunkered in defenses which they often saw at home) without losing too much from the league’s best defense. Goal differential will provide that answer for us. It isn’t if SKC gives up more goals or not but if the differential increases positively for them.

    The Bieler addition I believe is also meant to address the same issue by increasing conversion percentage. For all the chances that Sporting created last year with just a little more finishing ability they could have had 5 to 10 more goals. That could have been enough, especially in the playoffs to push them over the top.

    For SKC your Convey point is key in my opinion. What many don’t realize is that with all that SKC accomplished last year they did it mostly without what I believe was a key piece for them in Convey. It is clear that the technical staff believed he was. His ability to come back along with the development of a couple of other very promising midfield pieces in Peterson Joseph and Oriol Rosell will be important to whether or not SKC can become even better this year than they were the last two.

    Peter Vermes seems to have a knack for developing young talent so while the possibility that Kamara might be leaving before the start of the season is a wildcard that is hard to assess it wouldn’t be the end of the team’s chances in 2013. In fact with an ownership group with deep pockets and a commitment to winning I think it would all but assure that a DP would be on the way in the summer transfer window.

    • wfjackson3 - Jan 27, 2013 at 3:24 PM

      Very well said.

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