There are times when everything is clicking with Sporting KC that they look the envy of the league. Their 4-3-3 high press drives opponents crazy; their midfield is physical, yet skilled; Dom Dwyer seems like he can score at will; oh, and they play in the American soccer palace in front of rabid fans. And yet, each of the past two seasons have ended on long swoons that saw them limp toward the finish line and get eliminated early from the playoffs.
It's enough to ask if Peter Vermes' style isn't a bit much, if it pushes players to the brink and, inevitably, over.
Injuries have destroyed KC each of the past two seasons, but the core that won MLS Cup in 2013 is still basically here. If Vermes can find that balance, this could be a dangerous group.
2015 record 14-11-9, 6th place in Western Conference
2015 Playoffs Knockout Round (when penalties went 11 rounds and a SKC shot hit two posts for a miss)
Key additions Brad Davis, Justin Mapp, Nuno Coelho
Key loss Krisztian Nemeth
Projected starting XI (4-1-2-3) Tim Melia; Chance Myers, Nuno Coelho, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Soni Mustivar; Benny Feilhaber, Roger Espinoza; Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer, Brad Davis
A new fan would appreciate how hard Sporting Kansas City plays. Intense pressure and quick counterattacks have been what Sporting KC has been known for but they can also slow it down and play possession when needed. That style has yielded wonderful results (a MLS Cup and two Open Cups in four years) and they are among the best supported teams whenever they travel.
Scoring. Dwyer, Nemeth and Feilhaber were a potent combination of attackers but Benny is a year older, Dwyer has been "slightly" injured most of preseason and Nemeth is in Qatar, chasing riches. SKC is looking to bring in other striker options but right now the backup to Dwyer is 19-year-old Daniel Salloi, a player with just one professional goal.
Sporting were one of the teams hardest hit last season by injuries, with the defense in particular being held together by paper clips and chewing gum for much of the year. If Chance Myers and Ike Opara are healthy for a full season, it will make a world of difference, with those who stepped in last season now experienced depth options. The same goes for other key players up the field, as the hope is that U.S. international Graham Zusi and Honduran international Roger Espinoza won't be sidelined for extended periods this year. And with players like Brad Davis, Justin Mapp and Nuno Andre Coelho joining in the offseason and expected to compete for starting spots, a healthy SKC may be one of the deepest teams in the league.
Under normal conditions, the prime candidate would be 2015 MLS MVP finalist Benny Feilhaber, who effectively carried Sporting for weeks at a time. But Feilhaber, a one-time regular under former U.S. head coach Bob Bradley, has had brief looks in camp from current coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and it's clear Feilhaber is not in Klinsmann's plans, no matter the quality of his play in MLS. On the bright side, getting no call-ups should keep him fresh for his club.