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.
Aug 20, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT
Malky Mackay can’t escape Vincent Tan after Cardiff owner files report with FA that prompts Palace to withdraw managerial offer.
Aug 20, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT
Will Cristiano Ronaldo’s back injury prevent him from playing the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup?
Aug 20, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
Liverpool fans can finally kiss goodbye that Warrior label but will that improve the designs?
Aug 20, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Dzeko becomes the sixth player this summer to sign a new contract with City.
Aug 20, 2014, 3:26 PM EDT
D.C. welcome Jamaican side Waterhouse to RFK, while Montreal head to El Salvador in CCL group stages.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Red Devils finally land their man as Argentine defender signs five-year deal.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT
Nani is being paid his Manchester United wages in full… to play for Sporting Lisbon.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
The diminutive Croatian midfielder will remain at Real after proving himself in the Spanish capital.
Aug 20, 2014, 1:49 PM EDT
Check this out: one of the craziest tattoos from a soccer fan, ever.
Aug 20, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT
Fer, 24, is back in the Premier League as QPR capture box-to-box midfielder.
Aug 20, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Set to arrive in MLS in 2017, the league’s newest franchise has already sold a staggering number of season tickets.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
Wenger: “It’s very difficult to understand but, in the second half, the performance of the referee was very bad.”
Aug 20, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT
Muller: “The amount that foreign clubs were offering me was astronomical. But Bayern are my club.”
Aug 20, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT
Fernandez arrives from Napoli as Swans sign Argentine center back.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:50 AM EDT
Following his alleged racist comments, leader of Italian soccer facing lengthy ban.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:10 AM EDT
Arsenal to miss out on Carvalho, Nastasic, as rumors continue to swirl. Check out the latest gossip, here.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:28 AM EDT
Barcelona banned by FIFA from signing any new players from September 2014 to January 2016.
Aug 20, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
Spurs set to hand Red Devils duo escape route from Old Trafford?
Aug 20, 2014, 1:47 AM EDT
Portland victorious in CCL debut,while Club América affirmed their place as one of the competition’s favorites.
Aug 19, 2014, 9:53 PM EDT
21-year-old striker may turn to the 2.Bundesliga to get his young career back on track.
- Atlanta’s new MLS franchise has already sold 14,000 season tickets 6
- No signings in 2015: Barcelona’s transfer ban upheld, FIFA rejects appeal 3
- Report: Tottenham set to raid Manchester United, line up Fellaini, Hernandez deals 6
- Spanish Super Cup: Late goal allows Atlético to claim first leg draw at Real Madrid 0
- UEFA Champions League Roundup: Arsenal held; Athletic takes 1-1 draw out of Naples 1
- PST Major League Soccer Player of the Week: Fabián Castillo 0