Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Look Back on my 2016 Wants and Wishes

On New Year's Eve, before we ring in the New Year, here's a look back at my 2016 wants and wishes and how each one turned out.

1. Silverware - I'm not counting the Swope Park Rangers' Western Conference championship unfortunately (more on that later), so this wasn't a wish that was met this year by any of KC's four teams. Three of the four made the playoffs, but none of them were able to come home with a championship in 2016.

2. Sorting KC address center back issues - This is an area that overall was probably addressed, but at the same time probably wasn't. Sporting KC was in the top half of the table in terms of fewest goals allowed, finishing sixth in that category allowing 41 goals. So on that stat alone it would seem that KC addressed their center back issues. But the issue for the center back situation was the inability to have a consistent starting pairing at center back whether it be form, injuries, or national team call ups, KC started five different players at center back in seven different combinations over the 34 game season. Nuno Coelho and Matt Besler started the season as the number one center back pairing and looked to be pretty good for KC in that situation, raising hopes for the season. Then Coelho got hurt in mid-May and made just one 90 minute appearance the entire rest of the season for KC, with his high salary Sporting passed on retaining the Portuguese center back. For a stretch in the middle of the season, Peter Vermes favorite pairing was Ike Opara and the returning Lawrence Olum as Besler was with the national team and struggling with his club form. Besler eventually won his spot back with Opara for a stretch before injuries brought down Opara again this season, although not long term like prior years). This allowed Kevin Ellis to step up and take the job next to Besler, which he didn't relinquish the rest of the season. The Besler/Ellis pairing KC through the end of the season and into the playoffs in 2016. Hopefully a more consistent pairing can work in 2017.

3. Keep Krisztian Nemeth in Sporting blue - This one went out the window in late January as Sporting KC sold Nemeth to Al Gharafa SC in Qatar. Much has been made about how the move came about, whether Nemeth forced it, or whether KC did. KC reportedly went to Nemeth in good faith to offer him a new contract because of his performance in the 2015 season, but a deal couldn't be worked out. Nemeth (or his agent) posted a Facebook message saying that he wanted to stay but that the contract he was offered still wouldn't have made him one of the club's highest paid players. At the same times there were comments that Nemeth wanted to be released early to join the Hungarian team for camp ahead of the Euros. We never got the full story and likely never will, what we know for sure is that Nemeth left and his departure left a big hole in KC's right wing that the club never successfully filled in 2016.

4. Sporting advance from their CCL group - Another one that didn't come true, Sporting got off to a poor start with their two road games, drawing 2-2 in Trinidad and then were taken apart 3-0 in Vancouver to put themselves firmly behind the eight ball. Needing a result at home against Vancouver to keep their faint hopes of advancing alive. Falling behind, clawing back to equalize, Sporting gave up a very late winner to Alphonso Davies to put the Whitecaps through. KC won their final group game, a meaningless encounter between Sporting and Central FC 3-1, playing a number of Swope Park Rangers.

5. Jon Kempin and Erik Palmer-Brown both play 15 plus games - Almost, but not quite on this one, and certainly not in the way I expected with Palmer-Brown going on loan to Porto in 2016. Kempin started the season as the Rangers' starting goalkeeper, lost the job, won it back, then lost it again and never gained it back after an injury to Tim Melia forced him to be recalled from his loan. Combined between the Rangers and a couple of appearances for Sporting KC in the CCL, Kempin made 14 appearances in 2016, going 5-6-3 (5-4-3 for SPR, 0-2 for Sporting) and allowing 18 goals in those 14 games.

Palmer-Brown made 17 league appearances across two seasons for Porto's reserve team in the Portuguese second division, becoming a regular at center back for the club in their run to the Portuguese second division championship in the 2015-2016 season. After recovering from an injury early in the 2016-2017 season, Palmer-Brown again took his place in the center of defense and even earned a call up to the first team.

6. Swope Park Rangers have successful first season - I'd say a trip to the USL championship was a successful season, even if it didn't end in a trophy there was a lot of good that came out of the first season. For me, SPR's success had more to do with the players than the results on the field. SPR made a priority of getting a younger roster and really did, with only a handful of players over the age of 25 on the team. It also was able to shine the light on a number of players who could produce for Sporting KC in the years to come. From the likes of Tyler Pasher and Adrian Zendejas, who have both already signed with the first team to the likes of Amer Didic, Ualefi, and Nansel Selbol who all made appearances for the first team in the Champions League. Arguably the player I'm most excited about didn't even play for the first team though, Kevin Oliveira, tore his ACL near the midpoint of the season and missed out on the second half of the season. If he'd been healthy I have no doubts he'd have also appeared for Sporting KC this past season. Hopefully a swift return from his ACL tear will see him getting time with Sporting in 2017.

7. US national team has a respectable performance in the Copa America Centenario - I'd classify a fourth place finish as respectable, at least from looking at it from the outside it certainly was. Advancing to the semifinals before losing to world power Argentina is certainly a good run. Arguments can be made about the USA's performance in that 4-0 loss to Argentina as well as the two losses to Colombia (2-0 in group play and 1-0 in third place game), and how they were some of the final moments of Jurgen Klinsmann's time in charge of the US team, but in the end even someone anti-Klinsmann like myself, has to admit fourth was respectable, especially given the draw.

8. Missouri Comets get past Baltimore Blast - Unfortunately another Comets season ended with a loss to the Baltimore Blast. The Missouri (now Kansas City) Comets won the Central Division last year with a 17-3 record, four games ahead of second and third place Chicago and Milwaukee. After the Milwaukee Wave topped the Chicago Mustangs in a three game series, the Comets swept the Wave aside 2-0 winning 10-5 on the road and 8-2 at home to set up a match up with the Baltimore Blast for the fourth straight season. Unfortunately just like two of the previous three, the Blast topped the Comets, this time with a pair of overtime victories both by a 4-3 score line for the Blast.

9. FCKC recover from losing four regulars - Unfortunately the Blues couldn't overcome the loss of so many important pieces. FC Kansas City even lost a fifth likely regular as the club acquired Sydney Leroux in January last year, from the Western New York Flash, to replace Amy Rodriguez, but later in January she too announced that she would miss the 2016 season as she was pregnant. They also lost midfielder, Jen Buczkowski, who retired five games into the season to return to school. The Blues finished outside the playoffs for the first time in their history, finishing in sixth place with 26 points, six points behind fourth place Western New York. In the absence of both Rodriguez and Leroux, Shea Groom stepped up, scoring eight of FCKC's 18 goals on the season to lead the Blues in scoring. The return of Desiree Scott helped to ease some of the defensive losses in the offseason, as the Blues' defense allowed the second fewest goals in the league in 2016. Unfortunately the loss of Rodriguez, Leroux, and Lauren Holiday couldn't be overcome on the offensive end.

Overall, it wasn't a great year for my wants and wishes with only one, the Swope Park Rangers having a successful first season being my one real win out of all of them.

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