Sunday, January 01, 2017

2017 Wants and Wishes

A new year means that it's time to reset and look towards the future. With that said, here are my wants and wishes for 2017.

1. Silverware - Always the number one priority, winning trophies, painting the wall. Kansas City has made a habit of winning trophies over the last few years, hopefully KC's teams can return to that in 2017.

2. Secure a home playoff game - Children's Mercy Park hasn't hosted a home playoff game for Sporting Kansas City since the 2013 MLS Cup final against Real Salt Lake. In the three seasons since, Sporting KC has qualified for the playoffs each year, but as the fifth or sixth seed an been required to play the first round on the road. KC has lost all three of those games to New York, Portland, and Seattle. CMP hasn't been a complete fortress for Sporting KC like people would like it to be, but playing a playoff game at home is a distinct advantage for Sporting. That means the club's regular season for has to improve in 2017.

3. Find a secondary goal scorer - Dom Dwyer had his second best goal scoring season of his career, scoring 16 goals for KC in 2016, none of them from the penalty spot. KC's second leading scorers last year were Jacob Peterson and Benny Feilhaber, both scoring six goals, one of those players is gone, and the other had five of his six goals come from the penalty spot. Teams were able to key in specifically on Dwyer most of the time, and while he rose to the occasion, varying KC's attack is going to be better overall for the team. Only three teams scored fewer goals than the 42 that Sporting KC scored in 2016, Sporting is going to have to find a secondary goal threat to not only take some pressure off of Dwyer, but to create a duel threat that will keep other teams more honest, and probably open up more chances for Dwyer. It could be one of the two guys that KC is reportedly set to sign, Gerso Fernandes or Latif Blessing, although I have worries about both being able to do it, or it could be someone new that KC brings in. Either way, KC can't rely on 16 goals from Dwyer and the next highest scorer having 10 fewer and hope to do much next season.

4. A consistent center back pairing - Sporting KC's defense was strong last season, allowing just 41 goals, good for sixth in the league, but as I mentioned in my review of my 2016 wishes, the club had a lot of rotation at the center back position, with seven different pairings being used throughout the season due to injuries, form and national team call ups. Of all the pairings, the Matt Besler/Nuno Coelho was the most used, and that was only used about 11 times all of last season. KC managed with the shuffling of players last season, but really need to have a consistent center back pairing going forward. If you look at the better teams in the league, they all have a consistent pairing that starts the majority of the games, with a third and maybe fourth option available should they be needed. KC used this strategy to great success in 2012 through 2014 with the pairing of Besler and Aurelien Collin. Right now the first team pairing would appear to be Besler and Ike Opara, although Kevin Ellis being preferred to Opara late last season could be seen as a sign for the season. There are also still the questions about Opara's ability to stay healthy over the course of an entire season, as 2016 was the first time Opara has played more than 1,500 minutes in a single season in his seven year MLS career.

The other possibility is a returning Erik Palmer-Brown, who played consistently for Porto's reserve team while on loan. If he returns though, Palmer-Brown looks set to miss a good portion of preseason and a chunk of the regular season with the US U20 national team for World Cup qualifying and the World Cup this summer, which would obviously limit his time and ability to play for Sporting.

5. Quick decision on EPB - Before people can begin to dream about Palmer-Brown having a big impact on Sporting KC this season, his future with the team needs to be decided. With Palmer-Brown's loan to Porto now being up, it's down to negotiations between the two sides on whether Palmer-Brown will return to Kansas City or whether he'll be making a permanent move to the Portuguese power house. Palmer-Brown is reportedly in the last year of his contract, which Porto will use as an argument to get a lower price on the defender as he'd be available on a free next winter, but they also run the risk of Palmer-Brown having a breakout performance with the U20 team and being outbid by other clubs if they go that route. Either way, KC needs to resolve it quickly as selling Palmer-Brown leaves KC again a little thin along the back line in terms of depth.

6. Swope Park Rangers continues to play the "kids" and develop the likes of Amer Didic and Kevin Oliveira - Marc Dos Santos is off to San Francisco and the Rangers have a new coach this year. Taking over for him is Nikola Popovic, an assistant with the Rangers' last year, he came to SPR from Benfica B, where he was an assistant coach. Popovic having that experience with the Portuguese reserve side should bode well for the continued youth mindset the Rangers had last season. That should mean players like Amer Didic, Mark Anthony Gonzalez, Nansel Selbol, and Kevin Oliveira (when he returns), all under the age of 23 should continue to get time to prove themselves and use SPR as a stepping stone to reach Sporting KC. Hopefully SPR also continue to bring in young players to develop them, along with a few players that are maybe a step away from the jump up to help Sporting. Also hopefully the Rangers' players that are signed to academy contracts get more time in 2017.

7. US qualify for Russia 2018 - Well, I (and many other anti-Klinsmann fans) got their wish, Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as head coach of the US national team after the US started the "Hex" 0-2 losing at home to Mexico and in Costa Rica. With qualification for the World Cup important, the US went with the "safe" pick for a new head coach in Bruce Arena. He's not a head turning signing, but the expectation is to get things straightened out and get the US to the World Cup. The route back to the World Cup will start in March when the US will host Honduras in San Jose before traveling to Panama in a pair of games that the US really need to get six points out of to get qualification back on track.

8. Comets start run in second half of season - The Kansas City Comets have been one of the dominate forces in the MASL since it was founded, losing just three times in the regular season in their first two seasons in the league. Through 10 games this season they've already surpassed that loss total, having lost four times, and currently sit in third place in the five team Central division behind both Cedar Rapids and Chicago, the later of which still has two games in hand. The swagger that the team had the last two seasons doesn't seem to be there, they've lost talented players like Max Touloute and Coady Andrews, and the players that they've replaced them with haven't hit the same stride. At the same time, teams like Cedar Rapids and Chicago have really stepped up their game and brought in good talent to compete with the Comets in the Central division. Both of those teams have done so well that it appears like one of the Comets or the Milwaukee Wave are likely going to miss out on the playoffs for the first time in a long time this season. Something that most indoor fans would have thought next to impossible a couple years ago.

9. FCKC return to playoffs in 2017 - The Blues missed the playoffs for the first time in their history last season after losing five expected starters before the season to retirement or pregnancy and then lost a sixth early in the 2016 season. FCKC's defense stepped up big time last season to be one of the best in the league, but the offense struggled greatly. In 2017 the offense looks set to get a big boost as both forwards Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux will be returning to the team after both giving birth in 2016. The pair will join with last season's leading scorer, Shea Groom to give the Blues some more offense. In fact, as long as the Blues can stay healthy, they should be in great shape in 2017, with the three previously mentioned players up top and a defense that includes Becky Sauerbrunn and Desiree Scott along with goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. The Blues should be able to get themselves back into the playoffs in 2017.

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