Finishing up my review of Sporting KC's season going by position, we've reached the forwards. Compared to the rest of the team, the forwards were healthy and a consistent group all season. A club record for goals that had stood since 1996 finally fell thanks to Dom Dwyer's performance this year. Statistically though outside of Dwyer the forwards didn't really get their job done this year.
For the strikers the season begins and ends with Dwyer. The forward ended up winning the starting center forward spot in Peter Vermes' system late in the 2013 season over Clauido Bieler. While in 2013 he struggled to find the net, Dwyer had no such issues in 2014, finishing with 22 goals in league play and 24 in all competitions topping Preki's records from 1996 in both of those positions. Unfortunately for Sporting the team's second leading scorer in league play, Graham Zusi finished with just five goals, Benny Feilhaber with four, and after that it was Soony Saad with just three. Only two of those three spent the majority of the season.
That was the main issue for KC's forward line this year. Outside Dwyer there was no consistent goal scorer for Kansas City. KC's seven other forwards, Zusi (5), Saad (3), Bieler (2), Jacob Peterson (2), CJ Sapong (2), Toni Dovale (1), and Sal Zizzo (0) still finished with seven fewer goals than Dwyer got himself. To put another way, take away Dwyer's PKs that he scored and he scored as many as the rest of the forwards. In all competitions the group just finished 1 behind Dwyer's 24.
Dwyer's ascension was the downfall for Bieler, KC's lone DP heading into this season. The two had started the season alternating starts with Bieler getting the Champions League while Dwyer got the league games. But then Dwyer really started to find net and over the course of the season, Bieler started just four games for Kansas City in league play and played just 421 minutes in his 13 appearances. While Bieler and the team talk about the Argentine being okay with his role, one can't expect KC to continue to have a DP slot sitting on the bench consistently. I'd thought Bieler's time in KC was done after last season, that didn't happen. Now I'd be even more surprised if Bieler is back in KC next season.
On the wing this year one thing that became apparent for Kansas City and their fans is that the team really did miss Kei Kamara out wide. The mix of speed athleticism and goalscoring ability from the outside was really missed. And while I'm not sure if Kamara and Dwyer would have played as well together with both being "the guy" some sort of player like him would be a boost for the team.
Vermes has been trying to turn Sapong into that new Kamara basically since the 2011 season when Sapong would spend some time out side with Omar Bravo in the middle of the field. Sapong showed some flashes but really has not developed in the path that Kamara did in KC. He doesn't have the speed that Kamara was able to use to exploit his physical advantages against smaller outside backs. Sapong has the physical tools to be a center forward for Kansas City. Unfortunately with the likes of Dwyer in the middle, Sapong is unlikely to get that chance.
KC's most successful wide player this past season was Zusi who along with his five goals adding eight assists in league play to lead the team. Playing a role similar to that with the US national team I really do think that the wide position is his best in KC's system, especially with the likes of Feilhaber in the attacking midfield position running the game from there. Like with his US teammate Matt Besler, Zusi seemed to suffer from fatigue late in the season that hurt his performance down the stretch.
At moments during the season it looked like Saad was really starting to turn a corner and become a consistent starter and contributor on the team. But it seemed like each time he'd take a step forward he'd very shortly after take the step right back. He's probably the best pure striker on the team. His strike against Toronto this year was just another in a string of highlight goals that he's scored from distance. At this point in his career, turning 23 next season, he really needs to start to become more consistent as a starter and finisher.
Like Saad, Dovale showed flashes multiple times throughout the year. He gave Kansas City another threat on set pieces and looked dangerous cutting in from the right to get a shot on his left foot or swinging in a cross from the left side. On the other side of that, he's a very one footed player. He's not as bad as Milos Stojcev was for Kansas City back in 2011, but he is a far cry from the likes of Preki, who used his right to beat you just enough to make defenders think twice and let him cut back to his left.
KC's other two forwards, Peterson and Zizzo are good work horses, the two will go out and do the work that Vermes needs them to do on the wing. Unfortunately the two are not great when it comes to finishing. In almost 200 league appearances, Peterson has scored just 15 league goals for his career. Meanwhile Zizzo has played almost 100 games in all competitions in his MLS career and has scored just three goals. The two have helped KC out this year, but they pretty much fill the same type of role, and I'm not sure that KC's needs both of them.
I think the forwards are an area that KC could and will see a lot of turnover in this coming offseason. The big thing to watch will be any transfer rumors regarding Dwyer and a return to England. Offers came in during the summer and more this winter would not be a surprise. It'll take a very good offer though in my opinion for Kansas City to let Dwyer leave, even if he is entering the last year of his contract.
Elsewhere I think there will be some house cleaning. I think Bieler's time in KC is going to finally come to an end. As I said earlier I don't think KC can really afford to have one of their DP slots consistently sitting on the bench. For Vermes it's now the second DP forward that's found their way onto the bench while here in KC. With his departure though, KC would need to find a striker who can back up Dwyer and possibly take his place after next season if the lure of a return to England is too strong for him to turn down. Whether that comes from one of KC's two first round picks or from somewhere else, it's a priority that KC will need to address.
As for the other forwards, I think Sapong and possibly Saad would do well with a change of scenery away from KC. I think Sapong can be a decent professional if played in the center of the forward line, which would suit his skill set more, get him in a two forward system with another forward and I think he'd be fine. Unfortunately for him I don't see something like that happening here. Similar for Saad who I think really needs to be a consistent starter and I'm not sure he's going to get the opportunity here.
With Peterson and Zizzo, I think one of the two could be let go and it wouldn't be a huge loss. Peterson's versatility on the field would seem to give him the advantage, but on the other hand, Zizzo helps bring us the Benny Feilhaber Show.
Really the biggest of KC's needs up top is to try to bring in a winger with some speed and finishing ability. If Vermes is adamant about trying to convert a forward to the wing position, I'd be tempted to see what Vancouver wants for Darren Mattocks. The forward has been linked with a move away from Vancouver and he has the speed that KC has sorely missed out wide since the transfer of Kamara. If not there, KC really needs to be looking outside of MLS for that sort of player.