First kick is Saturday, Sporting KC will step onto the field for the first time since losing to the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference finals back in November at Livestrong Sporting park. It's the chance for redemption, for the chance to finish the unfinished business, and any other cliche regarding making a comeback after being knocked down.
KC will kick off the 2012 season at RFK stadium against DC United. Overall, KC has seen little turn over in their squad ahead of the 2012 season. KC is returning all 11 players that started the game against Houston in the final game of the 2011 season. The 3 substitutes that came into the game are all gone, though, moving on to other teams.
In terms of additions and loses from the team it's fairly close to a wash. KC lost Davy Arnaud and Omar Bravo are gone along with other players who played lesser roles, including Jeferson and Craig Rocastle. In return KC has brought in Bobby Convey, Paulo Nagamura, and Jacob Peterson, along with draft picks Dom Dwyer and Cyprian Hedrick. I firmly believe that the addition of Convey and the loss of Bravo is a wash. While Bravo adds more goal scoring capabilities, Convey adds a lot more to the wing position as a natural winger than Bravov does. Nagamura provides a similar ability to what Arnaud gave KC last year on the field so that too is a wash. Peterson provides more wing depth which KC didn't really have much of last year.
Graham Zusi's emergence last year helps to soften the blow that not getting a playmaker during the offseason. The question is now that he's more of a known quantity can he still produce at the level he did last year. If he can, KC won't be in trouble when it comes to creativity in the midfield. If he can't, then it could turn into a long season.
The offense still looks potent, goal scoring in the preseason aside. While the veteran goal scorer in Bravo is gone, the crossing ability from Convey should provide Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara, and CJ Sapong with scoring opportunities. There's also increased depth with Dwyer, Peterson, and Soony Saad. If the offense makes sure it hits it's form again it's going to be just s good as the offense was last year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the team returns all it's key parts. The Jimmy Nielsen, the back four, Julio Cesar, and Roger Espinoza all return for this season. After a rocky start for the back line early last season, the defense settled down and had one of the better years in team history (and that's a history that is known of some pretty decent defensive teams). With the depth at the outside back position, should Chance Myers or Seth Sinovic struggle, Michael Harrington looks ready to make a jump back into the starting lineup. The question for the defense is the same issue that was there to start the offense, center back depth. While Julio Cesar can play center back, Lawrence Olum is the first defender on the bench, followed by rookie Cyprian Hedrick. With Stefan Antonijevic and Sacir Hot both gone from camp at this point, it looks like Peter Vermes is going to stick with the center backs he has for the time being.
In the end, KC is going to be a very competitive team in the Eastern Conference. KC has a talented young squad. The thing that has bothered me all offseason is that I don't feel KC has taken a step up to get to that next level. The rest of the Eastern Conference seems to have added some difference makers to the team with a look towards competing this season. While KC has the talent that got it to the Eastern Conference final last year, the question resolves around whether KC can get back there this year. And if they have do they have the talent to get over that hump and actually get to MLS Cup and win it?
That question I really don't think the answer is yes. I'm not trying to be negative, I really do think KC has a strong team this year, but I just don't see it as being strong enough to carry KC on to MLS Cup. I'll make a prediction and say that KC will make it back to the conference finals. Whether they make it to MLS Cup this year is another question. I'm not saying they won't, but I don't think there's the talent for that last push.