Feb 28, 2013, 8:55 AM EDT
Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.
No. 2 in the East is Sporting Kansas City:
Significant additions and subtractions: No, Kei Kamara and Roger Espinoza aren’t the biggest names ever to use MLS as a springboard to something bigger. But good heavens, it will be so very difficult to replace these two around Sporting Park. Probably more so than many casual MLS fans believe. SKC fans may have a better understanding of their fierce dedication to the serious work involved in Peter Vermes’ demanding, high pressure ways. (Which is why they are both playing in the world’s top league now, the English Premier League.
Julio Cesar is also gone, but Paulo Nagamura probably has a good hold on that spot.
The big additions started with DP striker Claudio Bieler, who didn’t have a fantastic preseason. Vermes says not to worry.
Not long after, the team added talented two-way midfielder Benny Feilhaber in a trade with New England.
Ike Opara, newly acquired from San Jose and probably in need of a career reboot, will provide center back depth.
Strengths: If there is a better all-around back line in MLS, right, left and center, someone will need to show me. Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic are all among the top seven in ProSoccerTalk’s rankings at their position. (Besler, Myers and Sinovic are all top four.) Behind them, goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is No. 1 in our goalkeeper rankings. So, yeah, there’s a lot of “strong” in all that.
Feilhaber cannot replace Espinoza’s midfield industry or tackling, but the 2010 U.S. World Cup veteran is a superior passer and finisher.
Pressure points: SKC has looked unstoppable, if just a little short of striking power, over the last season and a half of league matches. But the playoffs have proven far more problematic; Vermes’ men fell to Houston in each of the last two years.
Speaking of missing some magic near goal, fans around Sporting Park are still trying to figure out how more than one of those chances didn’t go in as Houston clinched the home-and-away series last fall.
Bieler, who scored reliably in previous club stops in Argentina and Ecuador, needs to duplicate that proficiency. He could be the proverbial “final piece” for a club that’s stacked and packed in goal, in defense and in midfield and not bad out on the wing. (Better on the wing if Zusi is out there, even if it’s not his best spot.)
The schedule will be packed unlike it has been ever before for SKC, with CONCACAF Champions League to deal with, plus the title defense in the U.S. Open Cup.
Bobby Convey? We’ll see. He sure needs to find the next gear.
Difference maker: There’s reason to believe Graham Zusi’s career arc remains on the rise. He has seven assists two years ago and then 15 last year. If he goes any higher, Zusi could be flirting with records. His technical ability, fitness, desire and vision through the midfield are all above average. His set-piece delivery is well above average. Zusi may not be Major League Soccer’s best at any one thing, but he’s so well-rounded and so good at a lot of things, it’s no wonder he’s now a U.S. national team regular.
Potential breakout player: Can we call Feilhaber a “breakout” player? U.S. fans know so much about him already, and plenty believe he should be a larger part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plan with the national team. But for whatever reason, chemistry issues most likely, he sometimes has trouble assimilating. Presumably, Feilhaber understands that fresh chances won’t keep coming forever.
Bottom line: Vermes’ team took a little step back with Espinoza’s move to Wigan and Kamara’s loan to Norwich City (which could easily become an outright purchase given his early success with the Canaries). But Bieler and Feilhaber are the equalizers in terms of maintaining the collective level of talent at Sporting Park. The Eastern Conference champs could defend their title if the finishing improves. It’s really that simple.
Apr 19, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
A host of teams are battling it out to determine who will fill Germany’s European spots. Meanwhile, the rush to avoid the drop continues.
Apr 19, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT
Chicago goes for its first win while New England looks to make it two-in-a-row, and it all starts at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports Live Extra:
Apr 19, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
All the recaps, analysis and video highlights from a sensational Saturday:
Apr 19, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT
Watch Chelsea’s manager implode in the post-match TV interview, as his unbeaten streak comes to an end:
Apr 19, 2014, 2:52 PM EDT
Lazio, Torino and Parma all dropped points, opening a path for AC Milan to push into Italy’s final Europa League spot.
Apr 19, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT
Chelsea lose at home in PL under Mourinho for first time in 77 matches, as Sunderland shock Blues:
Apr 19, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT
Blues and Black Cats locked at 1-1 after nervy first half, watch live online right here:
Apr 19, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
According to the Fulham manager, if his side win their two remaining home matches, the Whites will stay up.
Apr 19, 2014, 12:21 PM EDT
Cardiff and Stoke both score PKs, as Bluebirds fail to take another step towards safety:
Apr 19, 2014, 12:14 PM EDT
Aston Villa may have clinched a vital point in the battle for safety, playing out a goalless draw with Southampton at Villa Park.
Apr 19, 2014, 12:08 PM EDT
Swansea secure vital win, as Newcastle slump to yet another defeat.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT
Tony Pulis has done it once more – with three points from West Ham, Crystal Palace are now assured of a second consecutive Premier League season.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
Can Chelsea go top of the Premier League by beating struggling Sunderland? Watch live, right here:
Apr 19, 2014, 11:31 AM EDT
Spurs boss react to Sandro’s Twitter frustration:
Apr 19, 2014, 9:43 AM EDT
Fulham put up a good fight, but in the end failed to take advantage of Spurs weaknesses to come away from White Hart Lane with even a point.
Apr 19, 2014, 9:27 AM EDT
Villa are back in the relegation battle once more, but three points against the Saints at Villa Park would do wonders for their confidence.
Apr 19, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Swans still not safe, as struggling Newcastle stand in the way. Watch live, right here:
Apr 19, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT
Both sides could clinch another season in the Premier League this weekend-but they’ll have to take all three points. Can either side do it?
Apr 19, 2014, 9:12 AM EDT
Bluebirds continue their battle against the drop, as Potters come to town. Watch live, right here:
Apr 19, 2014, 7:39 AM EDT
Find out how to watch every single PL game live online of via the app:
- Watch Live: Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution (Lineups and Discuss) 0
- Premier League Roundup: Chelsea blow it, Swansea, Spurs and Palace win 0
- VIDEO: Jose Mourinho’s sensational swipe at officials after Chelsea suffer shock defeat 5
- Chelsea 1-2 Sunderland: Blues’ title dreams in ruins, as Black Cats grab shock win 4
- Newcastle United 1-2 Swansea City: Bony’s brace seals crucial win for Swans 0
- West Ham United 0-1 Crystal Palace: Eagles assure second season in Premier League 0