Sporting KC have made the postseason six seasons in a row now. After making deep postseason runs in 2012, 2013, and 2014, Sporting KC were bounced in the first round the last two seasons. Even more painful? They lost in a PK shoot-out thanks to lucky bounces in ’15, and an offside Nelson Valdez sealed their fate in ’16. To make it even worse, the teams they lost to went on to win the MLS Cup. Here are three questions that will need to be answered if they are to make a deep run in 2017.
Three Questions for the 2017 Sporting Kansas City Season
Is the team actually better with Graham Zusi at right back?
A big thing for Sporting KC this offseason is the positional move of Graham Zusi, one of the clubs most recognizable faces (and hair-dos) at the club. Going from an attacking wing position to right back begs the question, “Are they better with him at right back?” I don’t have an answer for you at the moment there. We’re just going to have to see how the season shakes out with them in their respective positions.
The big thing here is Sporting really want both Latif Blessing and Gerso Fernandes in the attack, simultaneously. That much is obvious. Blessing has definitely been a pleasant surprise as to how well he’s assimilated to the team, and their play. Gerso has met expectations, that’s for sure.
I think the integration of Zusi into the “attacking three” solely depends upon whether or not Blessing is in for the long haul. If he is, fine. If not, also fine. Saad Abdul-Salaam can easily step in and fill in. According to the Audi Player Index, Abdul-Salaam was the fourth best right back in the league, with an average match performance score of 233. If things don’t work out, they can always go back to what worked in 2016.
Will the Back Line Be More Consistent in 2017?
The answer here is hopefully. Ike Opara escaped 2016 without a significant, season ending injury for the first time in what seems like a decade. And they got rid of Nuno Andre Coelho, who acted as a holding mid more than he did a center back in 2016. Matt Besler was played all over the place, and went through a rut in form, and Seth Sinovic and Chance Meyers got unseated, with only Sinovic regaining his spot. 2017 *looks* like the backline will be more consistent. Kevin Ellis was fantastic down the stretch last year, so if Ike goes down, I don’t think they’ll be to concerned about the backup for him.
The big question there is whether or not a second or third injury occurs simultaneously. That really threw Peter Vermes for a loop, which caused players like Zusi and Besler to be played out of position a couple times in 2016. Health is the key to a consistent backline. There is talent and depth all along the back four, so it’s just a matter of staying healthy if they want to be consistent at the back this year.
Where are the Goals Going to Come From?
The main question here stems from the main reason why Sporting KC brought in Gerso Fernandes and Blessing. They brought them in to add pace, and more importantly, goals from the wing. Last year they only got 13 goals from people not named Dwyer, Feilhaber, or Peterson. Peterson’s six goals are now in Atlanta. So, can Blessing and Gerso score enough goals to make up for it? I’m not all that sure.
Roger Espinoza will really need to chip in more than one goal in 2017. If Sporting KC can get six each from Gerso and Blessing, on top of Dwyer’s relatively expected 15 or more, and Feilhaber roughly at the 10 goal mark, that would be very beneficial to Sporting’s offense. Reality is they need people to score other than three players. After Peterson’s six goals, the next highest number was two. That’s really bad. Espinoza and Zeus will need to step onto the score sheet more than a combined three times.
The pressure to score more goals, create more clear cut chances, is something that will be there the entire season until they prove they can. Sporting KC have only one goal from a first team member in the preseason so far, which was a Dwyer PK. That should be concerning. Will they have it figured out by March 4th? Only time will tell.