Part three of my look at what happened to Kansas City in the 2014 season and where to look at going forward is taking a look at Kansas City's midfield. While Sporting's midfield wasn't hit nearly as hard by injuries as the defense was, other factors led to Sporting's issues in midfield this season.
The biggest issue for Kansas City ended up coming early in the season. Sporting sold Oriol Rosell, the team's deep lying defensive midfielder to Sporting Portugal in June. Rosell played just seven games for Sporting in the 2014 season before the club approved the transfer. With his departure, Kansas City's passing seemed to go down field. Rosell set an MLS record for passes attempted, completed, and had a 96% passing accuracy in KC's 3-0 win over Montreal this season. Once KC sold him to Portugal, KC never really found a true replacement. The main player that filled in for Rosell was Lawrence Olum. The Kenyan is a decent player, but he's not Rosell and he couldn't fill the shoes that the Spaniard left. Peter Vermes also brought in long term target, Jorge Claros during the summer window. Claros did okay, but not great in his appearances for KC. But really, not many of Vermes' mid-season signings have really ever had much of an immediate impact on the team. Usually it's taken until the next year for those players to step up, play more, and really get into KC's system (see Rosell or Kei Kamara).
In front of whoever was manning the deep role was originally supposed to be Paulo Nagamura. The Brazilian performed well until summer when he again had an ankle injury that caused him to miss 10 games for Kansas City. Once he returned, KC's midfield improved, but he couldn't carry the team out of the slump that it was in for the second half of the season. With Nagamura out, Mikey Lopez, the team's lone Generation Adidas player started to get some more time. Lopez did well, but from the games he's played, the bite that KC has needed out of that position hasn't been present. KC's other midseason signing; Martin Steuble also got a run out in the box-to-box role in KC's system, but didn't have much of a role to play for KC.
Early on in the season, Nagamura had gotten spelled at times by the team's third round draft pick, Alex Martinez. The North Carolina State graduate didn't look out of place, playing in 10 league games, starting three of them, but he was waived by Kansas City in late June without much explanation. Part of the gap in KC's midfield in this role certainly wasn't helped by the illness/injury that caused Peterson Joseph to collapse in practice and not allow him to play again for the club.
In the attacking midfield spot, KC got its most consistent performance for the entire season, with Benny Feilhaber being the main creator out of the midfield for KC. And Feilhaber wasn't just in the attacking role. Throughout the season due to all the injuries and call ups, Feilhaber played all three of KC's midfield positions. His influence in the offense did decrease some as the season went on. Part of this certainly would seem to fall on the sale of Rosell. With Rosell gone and Olum/Claros not being able to fill his shoes, Feilhaber was dropping himself deeper into KC's midfield to collect the ball from the team's defensive midfielder or from center backs. This pushed Nagamura or the box-to-box midfielder into a more advanced role where they may not be as good at creating and/or finishing chances that are created for them. Feilhaber was arguably Kansas City's best player all around over the course of the entire season. In the instances when Feilhaber would drop into deeper roles, many times the attacking role would fall to Graham Zusi. Zusi does well in the center of midfield can work with both sides of the field. But in a way I think it limits his play. I think he does a better job out on the wing where he can look up and see the entire field with one look instead of scanning across the field. It's been his best position for the US national team and I think while good at central midfield is much better for Kansas City when he's out wide.
The team's other four midfielders had little impact on the team this season. Christian Duke spent most of the season on loan to the Oklahoma City Energy as well as dealing with some injury issues. Another midseason signing, Michael Kafari only ever appeared in the team's friendly against Manchester City. Victor Munoz made just one appearance for KC after being picked up on waivers from DC. Munoz started KC's US Open Cup win over Minnesota, but came off in the first half with an injury, although he looked out of his element in the game as well. The fourth, Jimmy Medranda was the most involved with the team this year, appearing in six games, starting one, but played just 137 minutes this season. Like Duke he spent time in OKC with the Energy.
Heading into 2015 there are plenty of changes that could be needed in KC's midfield. One change may well already be set to happen. The return of Roger Espinoza has been rumored for a little while now. Espinoza has returned to the lineup for Wigan Athletic, but with him out of contract this summer a return could still be in the cards. If Espinoza ends up not returning to Kansas City I think Sporting needs to look elsewhere to get a box-to-box midfielder. While Nagamura has done quite well for Kansas City since coming here, he turns 32 early next season. His injury issues over the past two summers have coincided with a drop in form for Kansas City. Espinoza would seem to be the perfect candidate to replace him, but if he can't then another replacement needs to be found because I'm not sure that Lopez is going to be able to play the position the way Vermes wants.
Another question heading into 2015 is the deep midfield position. As I mentioned earlier, the loss of Rosell was a big blow to KC neither Olum nor Claros were able to fill the role well enough. Many people are saying that a deep midfielder needs to be brought in as well. With the addition of Claros in the summer though I'm willing to give him time in 2015 to prove he deserves the role. As I said earlier, most of Vermes' midseason signings do not contribute much or enough in their first half a season in KC. As for Olum, he could very well be taken in the expansion draft if he's exposed. He's a cheap, veteran who has played in Orlando previously and would give them some experience in midfield, especially after defensive midfielder Yordany Alvarez retired.
As for the attacking midfield spot, Feilhaber should be under contract one more year and while he had an MVP year for KC, I'm not sure I'd make an attempt to re-sign him quite yet. It's a question of what he'll do next year in a contract year before you decide to throw money at him to stay.
With the rest of the midfielders, I expect there to be some turnover with some of the end of the bench guys, most will probably come in to preseason next year and have to fight for a roster spot.