Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Look Back at my 2015 Wants and Wishes

With 2015 about to end, here's a look at my 2015 wants and wishes and how they turned out ahead of the calendar switch to 2016.

1. Silverware - Silverware is always fun and this year Kansas City soccer teams brought home two trophies. Sporting KC started the season off strong and for a period of time looked to be one of the favorites to win MLS Cup. Injuries though played a role in their downfall, but in the end were able to finish the season with their third trophy in four years, the US Open Cup. It was the club's third US Open Cup trophy to go with the 2004 and 2012 trophies, and as expected, came in a penalty kick shootout. Also this year FC Kansas City brought home their second straight NWSL title repeating as champions with a 1-0 win over Seattle thanks to an Amy Rodriguez goal.

2. Sporting KC improve their home form - I'd say this was a successful wish for 2015, Sporting KC. After going 6-5-6 in 2014, and losing 10 over the last two years, Kansas City lost just twice at home in 2015. Sporting finished with a 10-2-5 record, an 11 point positive swing in Kansas City's favor from their 2014 form. Add in their four US Open Cup wins at home and KC went 14-2-5 in 2015, tying a club record for home wins.

3. A little more balanced scoring - Overall scoring was much better for Kansas City in 2015. The club didn't have to rely solely on Dom Dwyer and ended up scoring 64 goals in all competitions, the second most in club history. Leading the way was Dwyer, Krisztian Nemeth, and Benny Feilhaber who all scored 10 goals or more in league play, becoming the first trio to accomplish that feat in one season for Kansas City. While Dwyer's scoring was down, he still led the team with 12 league goals, added another five in the US Open Cup, and one in the playoffs to finish the season with 16. Nemeth to go along with his 10 league goals scored five in the Open Cup for 15, while Feilhaber added two in the Open cup to finish with 12 on the season.

4. Finally defeat the Seattle Sounders at home
- Sporting finally got their first home win against the Sounders thanks to a late Benny Feilhaber penalty kick back on June 6th. KC actually was unbeaten against the Sounders this year, going 1-0-2, drawing 0-0 in Seattle on May 23rd and earning a 1-1 draw at home on September 27th with a mostly reserve lineup three days before the US Open Cup final.

5. Ike Opara (or whoever partners Matt Besler) is fully recovered and starts 25-30 games - I guess I can't technically call this one a failure as Kevin Ellis started 26 games paired with Matt Besler in central defense for Sporting during the regular season, but the spirit of this wish didn't come true, especially after the way Ike Opara started the season. Opara had been Sporting's best player over the first month of the season, but another injury in early May put him out for the rest of the season leaving KC to lean heavily on homegrown player Kevin Ellis again. Ellis performed better than I think anyone expected, but was still prone to mistakes that a player with more size or experience at center back wouldn't make.

6. Luis Marin is available for all 34 league games, allowing Jon Kempin to start all but a game or two with Oklahoma City - Well this is another one that didn't come to be at all. We'll ignore the fact that Jon Kempin didn't go on loan at all to the Energy and instead focus on the fact that Luis Marin played just eight games for Kansas City before being benched in favor of Tim Melia. Marin just never seemed to adjust to the style of play of MLS very well. He did pick up three shutouts in his eight games, but two of those were at home against teams that seemed to have little to no interest in attacking on the road (Portland and Salt Lake) and the third came against New York City. The last straw for Marin came in the club's 4-4 draw with Houston where Marin was at least partially responsible for a few of the Dynamo goals. Marin though has rebounded well in Chile where he helped lead Palestino to the Apertura finals there.

And while Melia turned out to be a diamond in the rough as a starter for Kansas City, Kempin only appeared in three games for KC after being recalled from his loan to San Antonio. Peter Vermes says Kempin will challenge Melia for the starting job in 2016 preseason. If Kempin doesn't beat Melia out I hope he can spend quite a bit of time with the Swope Park Rangers getting plenty of minutes.

7. US Men's national team says perfect in Kansas City - Unfortunately the perfect run in Kansas City ended at five as the US national team drew with Panama 1-1 at Sporting Park in the final group play game of the 2015 Gold Cup. Falling behind on a first half goal by Blas Perez the US equalized early in the second half on a goal by Michael Bradley. The entire group stage of the Gold Cup didn't go that well for the US, and the problems were only compounded in the knock out round, but I'll get to that next.

8. US win the Gold Cup - I almost want to laugh at this wish now, after seeing how the 2015 Gold Cup played out. After getting out of Group A as the top seed going 2-0-1 but looking less than impressive in their wins against Honduras and Haiti, and draw against Panama, the US took Cuba behind the woodshed, winning 6-0 in the quarterfinals. This set up a semifinal match against Jamaica. The Jamaicans came out on the front foot and really pushed the game against the United States and were rewarded for it with goals from Darren Mattocks and Giles Barnes putting them up 2-0 at half time. Michael Bradley scored very early in the second half to give the US hope, but they were unable to break down the Jamaican defense and missed the finals for the first time since 2003. Things got even worse for the US as they lost the third place game on penalty kicks to Panama after drawing 1-1 with Fabian Johnson, Bradley, and DeMarcus Beasley all missing.

9. Missouri Comets return to championship game - Unfortunately the Comets didn't make it back to the finals. After going undefeated in the regular season and defeating Milwaukee 8-2 in the Central Division final, the Comets met up with the Baltimore Blast, losing 6-4 in Baltimore then coming home and having the wheels completely come off their season with red cards and suspensions being issued to Brian Harris and John Sosa and then the headbutt incident involving Andre Braithwaite and Pat Healey after the game. Not the way you want to end your season with so much of a sour taste in the team's and fans' mouths.

10. FC Kansas City improve attendance - FC Kansas City played in their third stadium in three years as they moved from Durwood on UMKC's campus down the road to the newly completed Swope Soccer Village and played at the Championship field there. The move bumped the available capacity to 3,557 for the Blues in their third season. The move, coming off a championship, and a boost from the Women's World Cup helped FCKC up their average attendance by over 1,000, going from 2,018 to 3,091 in 2015.

11. US women's team wins World Cup - The United States made it through their group as the winners picking up wins over Australia and Nigeria with a draw against Sweden in between to finish with 7 points. They met the upstart Colombians in the round of 16 and needed two second half goals after Colombia's starting goalkeeper was sent off to see them through. The quarterfinals saw a rematch of the 1999 final against China with Carli Lloyd scoring the lone goal to send the US through to the semifinals. There they met two time winners, Germany. The US though played their best game of the tournament up to that point though and scored twice in the second half from a Lloyd penalty and a Kelley O'Hara goal to make the finals. There they met Japan, who had beaten them in the finals of the last World Cup in Germany. The knockout rounds though had become the Carli Lloyd show and she continued in the finals. Lloyd had had two goals in the first five minutes as the US jumped on Japan early. Lauren Holiday scored in the 14th to make it 3-0 and in the 16th Lloyd finished her hattrick with an outlandish shot from midfield that went over goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori and into the net to make it 4-0 to the US before Japan even knew what happened. Japan got a goal back on each side of halftime before Tobin Heath finished the scoring in the 54th to give the US the 5-2 win.

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