Sporting KC will kick off the franchise’s 23rd season in MLS on March 4th as NYCFC comes to town. That kick off to their campaign will begin their answer to three major questions for them to answer in 2018.
2017 Started off well for Sporting KC, and continued as such throughout the majority of the season. When Dom Dwyer was sent to Orlando City in the summer, Sporting KC were clearly signaling a brand new direction. Despite the Dwyer absence, they were able to win their fourth US Open Cup in club history, on the backs of fove goals over their final three games by players under the age of 21.
But after that US Open Cup win, they fell flat. With five games to go the goals dried up, and their chance to take first place in the West by the scruff of the neck, fell. They ended up just one point above San Jose for the penultimate playoff spot, and were eliminated in the knockout round on the road, again, on goals later than the 80th minute. They’ve spent a lot of money, and made some significant moves in the offseason to right that ship.
Now, here’s three questions that are crucial to the Sporting KC 2018 Campaign.
Will Age Catch up with Sporting KC?
Sporting KC’s collective age keeps getting lower and that’s a good thing. Almost all of their signings recently, outside of Brad Davis and Brad Evans, have been under the age of 30. There are some really young contributors within the squad at the moment. But, through their core and spine, the age might start to catch up with them.
Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Seth Sinovic and Graham Zusi are all 31 to start the season off.Players begin to break down a bit physically as they get older and that’s just the nature of it. For the most part, that group was injury free last season. Espinoza experienced some back problems, but played through it.
Will they be able to stay healthy and keep on trucking through? If so, that’s a good thing for Sporting. But if not, then the depth concern will start to trickle in. Sporting have some quality depth on the backline, but still, you’d want your first choice guys to be healthy.
Will the Money Spent Justify Itself?
Sporting KC spent big this offseason, more than they ever have in the past. Johnny Russel, Yohan Croizet, and Felipe Gutierrez cost quite the chunk of change this offseason. Their expenditures need to pay off. Croizet needs to be creating between 15-20 goals himself between goals and assists. Russell needs to be between 10-15, and Felipe needs to be healthy and going.
Russell and Croizet are the question marks for me as to whether or not they’ll justify the price tag and the role they’re given. Felipe has already shown signs of being the player worth that DP price tag. Last year, Gerso was brought in as a DP, but just hasn’t performed to that tag level.
Most of the time, in influx of money spent on the playing staff at a club ends up working out to be more quality. The new guys will need to justify themselves for that price tag, and so far, it seems like they’re making a big impression within the squad.
Where Will the Goals Come From?
Last year, Sporting KC scored a mere 40 goal, fourth lowest in Major League Soccer. Peter Vermes very pointedly said postseason that they didn’t have enough goals, and that he didn’t have the solution to that problem. Well, they went out this offseason and got every single need of theirs, other than an out-and-out striker. While there is still some time for them to do something in this window, they need to pull the trigger soon. If they don’t, they’ll be stuck until July. But if they are stuck until July, the question simply is whether or not Diego Rubio and Daniel Salloi can get the job done.
Personally, I really do think they can. If they are aided by the influx of talent around them, it may help open up chances for them. We’ve seen this in the past with multiple teams who have goal scoring issues. By elevating the talent around them, they end up bagging more. It’s just how it works. Diego Rubio and Salloi are very smart guys with combo play that can lead to some wonderful team goals. Another factor thrown into this has been Khiry Shelton. Shelton has impressed a lot of people on the inside, and outside this preseason. He might have even won the starting spot for opening day.
If Sporting KC ups the goals they’re going to win. They have the reigning defender and goalkeeper of the year, a club legend and national team defender in Matt Besler, Graham Zusi who was incredible at the right back spot last year, and Ilie to help shield the backline. They’re not going to regress on the backline.
The question becomes whether or not they’re going to score enough goals. If they can, then they could conceivably run the table in the West. They’re good enough. Don’t be surprised if they pick up their fifth trophy in seven years. Now, it’ll be hard to predict which one, but don’t be surprised if they win another one, maybe two if it all goes well.