It's been about a week since Krisztian Nemeth departed Kansas City for the Qatari league, and most of the venom that was being spewed at either Nemeth or the team seems to have died down just a little bit at this point. With the gut reactions out of the way I felt it was time to take a look at what Sporting KC is going to do at this point now that the club's second leading scorer last season has left.
The first part of the replacement is who is going to take his starting spot on KC's left wing. The favorite for that position, at least to start the season will likely be the newly acquired Brad Davis. While Davis played centrally a lot for the Houston Dynamo last season he is still able to play out wide and would be able to provide crosses to not only Dom Dwyer but to Graham Zusi to knock home at the far post similar to goals he's scored in the past. With Davis being 34 years old though he's unlikely going to be expected to start every game for Kansas City, especially with the way that Kansas City plays. That's where the addition of Justin Mapp comes in. Mapp and Davis will likely split duties for the most part out on the left wing for Kansas City throughout the season. Mapp will be able to spell Davis and KC won't see much of any drop off in talent, especially in April and May when the games come very fast for Sporting KC ahead of the summer break.
The next part of replacing him to look at is the goals that he scored. Nemeth scored 10 league goals and 16 in all competitions for KC last season, second on the team behind Dom Dwyer's 12 and 17 respectively. Those are some numbers that will be hard to hit for just one player on the team not named Dom Dwyer or Benny Feilhaber (with help from the penalty spot), so don't expect all those goals to be filled by just one player, expect the scoring slack to be picked up by committee among not just his on field replacements in Davis and Mapp, but also from a healthy Zusi. Davis has scored four goals in each of the last three seasons after a career high of eight in 2012. Mapp hasn't scored a goal in either of the last two seasons (2015 he only played five times due to injury) but over the course of his career has averaged a goal every 925 minutes. If you go off the mindset that he's going to be getting a number of games this season in relief of Davis, expecting at least two goals out of Mapp isn't wholly unexpected. Then you get to Zusi who scored just two goals last year for Kansas City, a career low since becoming a regular starter in 2011. He'd been averaging about five goals a season since 2011 up to last season, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that he could return to that level of form, especially with the likes of Davis and Mapp playing balls across the box that Zusi could get on the end of at the back post. So combined the three of them could make up for the loss of Nemeth in terms of goals. In terms of assists I don't think I even need to make a point on that when you consider that Davis and Mapp have a combined 187 assists in MLS play, they'll be able to replace Nemeth's assists without a problem.
To look at it from another angle, KC scored 48 goals in league play last season, the same number that the club scored in 2014 without Nemeth. In fact, in the five seasons since the club rebranded they've averaged 47 goals a season; four of those seasons have been without Nemeth. The counter to that is that KC scored 64 goals across all competitions last season, the second most in club history, only behind the 1996 season when the club scored 71 goals across all competitions.
While KC is able to replace those areas above with some work with the players currently on the roster there are some areas that KC will struggle with the loss of Nemeth. One area is his ability to take players on one-v-one and beat defenders on the dribble. The closest that KC has to that now is Mapp, who can replace it to an extent and has always shown flashes of being able to beat players not like Nemeth did against Portland, but can be players on the dribble. The problem is that while Mapp can do those things the problem for him has always been his ability to do it consistently. Early in the 2015 season Mapp showed that off in Montreal's run to the CONCACAF Champions League final. Many will argue that while Mapp does that, he also will disappear from games quite often, but that is something that Nemeth had issues with as well, especially on the wing for Kansas City. So while Mapp may not be able to score a goal like Nemeth did against Portland, or do it as consistently as Nemeth did, but Mapp does give KC a threat in one-v-one situations.
The one area that this may hurt KC is the most is probably in a position that Nemeth didn't even play much last year, center forward. While Dwyer started 28 games last season, when he didn't start it wasn't Nemeth that played the center forward position for the most part in his absence, it was the likes of Zusi and Jacob Peterson that played that spot. But if Dwyer had gone down for an extended period of time for some reason, you would have to think that Nemeth would have slid centrally to be the center forward on a more regular basis. With him now gone KC is extremely thin at the center forward position. The club has Peterson, who is a prototypical Peter Vermes player with his style of play and his work ethic on the field. But with only one goal last season (coming when he was a center forward) he's not going to strike an imposing presence as a center forward for Kansas City. After him you have the likes of Zusi, playing a false nine or Daniel Salloi, who while he has scored in the top division in Hungary is still just 19 years old. KC's striker depth is probably the largest worry in terms of Nemeth leaving the club.
So overall, while the loss of Nemeth is certainly a big loss for Kansas City the loss is something that KC should be able to survive. In the end I should have put "replacing" in quotes though, because Kansas City really isn't going to be straight replacing him, at least not immediately. The team will need to make adjustments to the playing style that they had at the end of the season to adjust to not having Nemeth on the wing.