Sporting Kansas City sure has changed a lot since their 2013 MLS Cup championship. They experienced their worst stretch since being the Wizards late last year and they limped into the Eastern Conference playoffs. Tired, injured and just flat out feeling defeated, SKC’s season ended in rather lackluster fashion as they lost to the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round.
But that season is in the past. This is a new team with a new conference, many new players, a returning player and the departures of a few fan favorites in hopes of evolving this team back to their trophy winning glory.
The roster got a tremendous makeover in the offseason. The roster moves Sporting Kansas City has made this offseason will result in a different looking team. Sporting said goodbye to fan favorites like Aurelien Collin, CJ Sapong, Soony Saad and longtime backup goalkeeper Eric Kronberg and welcomed guys like Luis Marin, Bernardo Anor, Krisztian Nemeth and old friend Roger Espinoza, who came back to Sporting after a couple years playing for Wigan in England. Here is the complete list of arrivals and departures.
Bernardo Anor – Columbus Crew
Jalil Anibaba – Orlando City
Krisztian Nemeth – Roda JC Kerkrade (Netherlands)
Luis Marin – Club Universidad de Chile (Chile)
Tim Melia – Chivas USA
Roger Espinoza – Wigan (England)
Connor Hallisey – UC Berkeley (College)
Saad Abdul-Salaam – University of Akron (College)
Servando Carrasco – Houston Dynamo
Soni Mustivar – Petrolul Ploiesti (Romania)
Amadou Dia – Clemson University (College)
James Ansu Rogers – University of New Mexico (College)
Marcel de Jong – Augsburg (Germany)
Toni Dovale – Lugo (Spain)
Lawrence Olum – Kedah FA (Malaysia)
Soony Saad – BEC Tero Sasana (Thailand)
Aurelien Collin – Orlando City
CJ Sapong – Philadelphia Union
Sal Zizzo – New York Red Bulls
Eric Kronberg – Montreal Impact
Andy Gruenebaum – Retired to be SKC broadcaster
Igor Juliao – Fluminese (Brazil) – loan expired
Claudio Bieler – Quilmes (Argentina)
Jorge Claros – Qingjao Jonoon (China)
Off the field, Sporting’s WAG game and USWNT game improved dramatically. Servando Carrasco, Alex Morgan’s husband, got traded to Sporting KC and Dom Dwyer got married to Sydney Leroux. I’m sure many FCKC fans are hoping Morgan and/or Leroux will come to play for the defending NWSL champions.
On the field, Sporting Kansas City was in Tucson, Arizona for the Desert Diamond Cup. Sporting had some bumps but they looked great. Peter Vermes is trying new things with the team. He experimented with new formations and tried to find new ways to insert new people into the existing team. One issue (or blessing) is how to insert Krisztian Nemeth into the team. Nemeth is a striker and so is Dwyer. Nemeth is there to fill the Claudio Bieler role as a backup for Dwyer but Nemeth has looked like he has impressed those within the team. Watching the preseason friendlies, it appeared as if Vermes is trying to find a way to have Nemeth and Dwyer on the field at the same time. I guess it’s a great dilemma for Vermes. If he can find a way to put both on the field, that can potentially be a lethal strike force pair. If Peter cannot and can only play one, the striker position is stacked. Vermes has tested Nemeth at Attacking Midfielder so it’ll be interesting to see what that entails.
Predicted Starting XI
GK – Luis Marin
RB – Amadou Dia (Chance Myers will come in when he comes back from injury)
CB – Ike Opara
CB – Matt Besler
LB – Seth Sinovic
CDM – Roger Espinoza
CAM – Benny Feilhaber
CAM – Krisztian Nemeth
RW – Graham Zusi
ST – Dom Dwyer
LW – Bernardo Anor
Obviously Myers will take the RB spot once he comes back from injury. Most positions have someone as a solid backup. Jail Anibaba is going to be backing up Opara and Besler at CB. The newly signed Nigel de Jong is backing up Sinovic at LB. Paulo Nagamura will be the “Jack of All Trades” at midfield as he will likely be a backup at both CDM and CAM. At forward, guys like Jacob Peterson, James Ansu Rogers and Connor Hallisey will be backing up the guys on the wings. Nemeth and Dwyer can play in the Striker role but Vermes will likely use Nemeth as an Attacking Midfielder and try to make that work with Dwyer.
How will Sporting fare?
Sporting Kansas City needed to give in something. It was clear the team wore itself thin and it showed on the field. Deep playoff runs, deep Open Cup runs, CONCACAF Champions League year after year along with players playing in the FIFA World Cup, really resulted in a lot more games for Sporting KC players that wasn’t necessarily the case with players on other teams. This year, the schedule will be a lot less hectic. Sporting will not have Champions League and while they will have to deal with the CONCACAF Gold Cup, they come off a four month extended break that was much needed.
Now that Sporting Kansas City is in the Western Conference, they are going to face a tougher test. Three of the best teams in MLS (LA, Seattle and RSL) will now play Sporting two and three times a year. They will play some tougher games but I see Sporting as doing just fine in the West. They may not be able to compete for the top of the standings, that’ll likely be reserved for LA and Seattle, but Sporting will definitely be the best of the rest. I have them at 3rd, fighting for the spot with Real Salt Lake for the 3rd and 4th spots. And Sporting Kansas City will want to get back into the CONCACAF Champions League so expect to see them make an Open Cup run.
(image courtesy of mlssoccer.com)