By Jason Poon (@jasonhpoon)
The 2016 campaign for Sporting Kansas City ended on a .500 note (13-13-8), but it was not a team that went through the season that picked up wins, losses or draws on a consistent basis. It was a campaign that saw the team enjoy the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and everything in between.
Sporting roared at the start of the season, picking up four wins out of five, seemingly ready to put behind the demons of that gut wrenching penalty playoff loss to Portland in 2014. But after flying out of the gates, SKC immediately washed away those gains by picking up just one win in the next 11 matches. SKC would limp into the playoffs as the fifth seed, only to be knocked out by the eventual MLS Cup winners (again) on a late header from Seattle Sounders' forward Nelson Valdez.
This club is desperate to return to their MLS Cup winning ways of 2013 and with the core pieces remaining intact and with a few key acquisitions, SKC could very well be on their way.
2017 Off Season
While some key contributors (Brad Davis, Lawrence Olum, Jacob Peterson, Chance Myers) are gone, Sporting got younger and faster across the board with new additions. 2016 was marred by the fact that they only had Dom Dwyer, Jacob Peterson and Benny Feilhaber who managed to score more than two goals. While Dwyer is more than capable of leading the line by himself, additional offensive weapons will surely give SKC a more balanced and dynamic attack for 2017.
Gerso Fernandes is the big designated player that could tip the scale for Sporting this season. Fernandes has the ability to play across the attacking line, giving Peter Vermes plenty of options to get the most out of his attack this year.
Soony Saad is returning to the club, and the addition of Ilie Sanchez brings a huge pedigree (Barcelona B) to the midfield that should free Feilhaber to do even more creative work up the midfield.
SKC made some changes to their goalkeeping department, but only in terms of depth and backups. Tim Melia is still the expected starter with experienced Andrew Dykstra expected to be the backup. Adrian Zendejas remains a long term prospect, with great potential but the job defending the goal will remain the same as it has for the past two season for SKC.
The defense remains largely unchanged heading into 2017. Matt Besler and Kevin Ellis will anchor the backline, with Seth Sinovic and Saad Abdul-Salaam to man the flanks. This Vermes' defensive line is loaded with players who are very comfortable with the ball at their feet, but needed some adjustments upfront to maximize their talent. I expect this to be a very solid defensive unit heading into 2017, where they're also going to be key contributors to the offense.
The midfield needed a bit of a change. Not a drastic and complete overhaul, like a whole new car engine, but maybe a new timing belt, an oil change and a new battery kind of changes. If Sanchez can adapt to the league quickly as hoped, this midfield featuring Sanchez with Roger Espinoza and Feilhaber will be deadly moving forward.
Dwyer will lead the line again, but will now have the help of Fernandes to share the offensive load. Dwyer is actually just 19 goals shy of Preki's SKC all time goal record, something that'll be fun to watch to see if he can eclipse that mark.
Sporting never seemed to recover from the loss of some key players in the recent years; Oriol Rosell, who anchored the midfield from 2012-2014 and Krisztian Nemeth in 2015. Nemeth for obvious reasons as a deadly goal scorer, but Rosell's ability to shield the backline and distribute the ball cleanly and efficiently hasn't left SKC in bad shape, but not in the 2013 MLS Cup winning form. The additions of Sanchez and Fernandes looks to put them back on that level. If those two players can adapt to the league, I fully expect them to challenge for at least one trophy this season.