Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Sporting KC Season Preview - Defenders

Today on the preview of Sporting KC's roster ahead of the 2016 MLS season we'll take a look at the defenders. With today's announcement about the mutual termination of Marcel de Jong's contract there is one fewer defender on the roster for Sporting KC. The loss of de Jong though doesn't appear to be too big as the team is still two deep at each position along the back line at this time.

The defense overall isn't seeing much of a shake up from the unit that allowed 43 goals in the 2015 season, the fourth most in the Western Conference in 2015. The big thing for them is probably the overall health of the lineup this season. Of the eight players on the roster, seven were on Sporting KC's roster last year, and pretty much all of them missed time with injuries, the biggest of those being Chance Myers, Ike Opara, and Seth Sinovic. Those three were expected starters on the 2015 Sporting KC team. Instead they started just 26 of an available 102 games in league play. In their place came the likes of Saad Abdul-Salaam, Amadou Dia, and Kevin Ellis. And while all three of those players were able to get valuable playing experience last year the loss of Myers, Opara, and Sinovic were certainly felt.

Saad Abdul-Salaam - The second year wingback had a good 2015 season after starting on loan with Jon Kempin at the San Antonio Scorpions. He was recalled around the same time Kempin was when injuries started to take their toll on Sporting's back line. Abdul-Salaam did well, replacing Myers who struggled in his return from an Achilles injury. He even got a bar at Providence Park named after his penalty kick against the Portland Timbers.

Matt Besler - Sporting KC's captain and the leader of the back line, Besler continues to be solid for Kansas City in the middle of defense. Without a World Cup, and not being called into the Gold Cup, Besler was able to more games for KC in 2015 than he has since breaking into the US national team, starting 32 games. With the Copa America this summer Besler could potentially miss time if he's once again named to the US team. Last year he did a better job of transitioning between the composed, stay at home defender that he always got to be when he partnered with Aurelien Collin and being the more aggressive of the two center backs defensively. It was an area he'd previously struggled with but in 2015 he did better about holding his own when he had to take on the later role.

Nuno Andre Coelho - The Portuguese center back, the only new member to the back line, appears to have won probably the biggest position battle in preseason camp this year, the spot next to Besler as the right center back. Throughout the Desert Diamond Cup, Coelho was the one that was mainly partnering Besler in the middle of KC's back line when the KC captain was out there. In the preseason games I've seen Coelho has performed well and looks like he's acclimating well to his position and working with Besler. He'll also provide a threat on set pieces with his height, an area KC probably needed to improve on, they couldn't rely on 5'9" Ellis equaling his four goal total of last year.

Amadou Dia - Like Abdul-Salaam, Dia had himself a solid 2015 rookie season. He got plenty of time at left back after the concussion for Sinovic and he basically made Marcel de Jong expendable for Kansas City with his level of development in 2015. In 2016 he'll be expected to mainly back up Sinovic, but if he struggles this year Dia is more than capable of replacing him.

Kevin Ellis - Possibly the most polarizing player on Sporting KC's roster (only maybe equaled by Jacob Peterson). Some people thought he performed well enough last year when put in a difficult situation having to start for Opara at center back for over 80% of the season after he went down with an injury. Others never want him near the field again, felt he was a liability and doesn't have the size to play center back. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle, if he had done as good as some think, KC wouldn't have made upgrading center back as much of a priority as they did in the offseason and if he was as bad as some think, he still wouldn't be with the club. Ellis will get his chances at center back this season with spot starts in the league or in other competitions he needs to prove he can continue to develop at that position as he appears to have fully made the switch from outside back.

Chance Myers - After three seasons of remaining fairly healthy, Myers suffered a torn Achilles in the 2014 season. The injury kept him out for the start of the 2015 season, not returning to action until late June. He started only 10 league games in the entire season and missed out on the playoff game against the Timbers due to injury as well. With him getting a full preseason with the team this year the hope is that he'll return to the form of the last few years when he was healthy and help solidify the back line.

Ike Opara - Opara was dominating in defense over Kansas City's first six games of the 2015 season. Then another injury happened, his fourth season ending injury in six professional seasons. He's strong in the air and is a good defender but the questions of his health continue to be answered negatively each time he gets the opportunity as a regular starter. The injury issue force Peter Vermes' hand into bringing in Coelho in the hopes that he'll be more reliable. Opara will be very helpful to KC though as a spot starter and appearing in other competitions in 2016. He'll also potentially be needed this summer if Besler is called up for Copa America. Hopefully he can remain healthy.

Seth Sinovic - The third of KC's three 2015 starters who missed significant time in 2015, Sinovic suffered a concussion in a 1-1 draw with DC United in May. That left him out of action until August. When he returned though Sinovic didn't seem to be the same player, he was a step slower and he just didn't appear to be fully recovered at the time. Like Myers he missed the playoff game, instead Vermes favored the rookie Dia in his spot. Hopefully with an offseason to fully heal and get some down time he comes back closer to where he was when he got the concussion, if not Dia will be likely to get a lot of time at left back.

There are also players elsewhere on the field that can be pushed into defensive positions if the situation calls on it. Jimmy Medranda had one decent game at left back against Toronto, and one horrid half at left back against San Jose. In a pinch he could fill in as an outside back for Kansas City. Meanwhile Lawrence Olum has spent time at center back for both Kansas City and for his country, Kenya. He played the 2013 US Open Cup final at center back in place of the suspended Collin. So while he seems set to mainly play in the midfield a spot on the back line shouldn't be out of the question, especially if KC starts to get hit with more injuries.

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