There is a lot of Sporting Kansas City talk out there at the moment, a lot of them based around formations and depth but for me this season (like the game itself) goes further than turning the team into a virtual jigsaw puzzle, putting all the pieces you want to fit together and just assuming that because they all fit that Sporting KC are going to win something, or anything. We need a legitimate center forward, a true number 10 … things like this drive me crazy because this isn’t Lego, players are not molded to precision, teams are not built with a basic blue print – you don’t just snap them together and have exactly what you want. Players that have NEVER played in MLS before do not instantly become MLS players because they ‘fit a mold’.
If they did Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Seth Sinovic and co would have taken the step that they did last year earlier. Teal Bunbury might not have taken the steps backward that he seemed to over 2011 and Graham Zusi would not be a guy that is now so ridiculously over-hyped that one of Ives moron’s tapped him up for league MVP. Another mentioned that CJ Sapong was going to win the MLS Golden Boot – out scoring everybody! I’d love it, but what on earth is going on here? Hype is going on, Sporting KC players, management and so on continually talk about Paining [another trophy win on] The Wall at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Some people are biting it, which is fine but I can’t.
Sporting KC won’t be good because we simply desire them to be. They won’t be good because it took 4000 tweets to make them so. There are legitimate questions and problems with this team and we can choose to ignore them or acknowledge them. For example we have mad depth, we have so much depth that we have “good problems”, we are so “stacked” that Peter Vermes is going to have “difficult decisions”.
Bollocks to that.
Let’s keep it real. I don’t believe we can not win. I just do not believe we will – here is why.
The Forward Line
The lineup this year is unlikely to be any different from last years with the notable exception that Bobby Convey will slot into the hole left Omar Bravo. Hardly anything else will change. Teal Bunbury will be off playing with the U-23 Olympic Team and might play as few as ten games this season. It is a choice HE will make and is unlikely to have him really challenge Sapong for the starting position at least not long term.
How stacked are we in the forward three positions? Well Bravo is gone, Bunbury isn’t looking like he will feature much at this immediate time. That leaves us down about 18 goals, and 6 assists that will need to be replaced over the post season – 18 goals and 6 assists that we will dearly miss if CJ Sapong does not turn into an overnight scoring sensation AND Bobby Convey fails to match Bravo’s tally. That seems like a stretch to me. Backing them up we have Dom Dwyer, a rookie, Soony Saad – a talented but truly untested player and Peterson Joseph a frail Haitian with good pace and skills but all the physical presence of the Olsen twin with the eating disorder.
It was quite something to have three players score 9 goals last season. I expect Kei Kamara to be up around that mark again if the team provides the chances they did last year or if he has improved his woeful finishing just a tiny bit. Can the others step into the shoes of Bunbury and Bravo? I am not sure and if there is going to be a real weakness this season it may be in the teams ability to score goals. Shutting down Kamara may well be defensive priority one this year rather than contending with Kamara, Bravo and Sapong or Bunbury.
Sapong is an essential component for me, I do not believe anybody can handle his primary role leading the line last year and without him obtaining and maintaining possession at the heart of our attack things are simply going to collapse. MLS is a league made for physical center forwards, largely because of the bruisers that make up the central defensive positions. He needs to step things up and score a few more goals, needs to learn to turn and shoot more quickly. Much like last year’s team fortunes resting on the rebirth of Matt Besler, this year will revolve around CJ’s continued growth.
As for the depth? From what I have seen it isn’t ready yet. We have massive potential but nobody I trust to step in now and truly make an impact before the latter half of the season and yet we will need one or more of them to do so now as the team needs to make substitutions and deal with injuries and call ups.
Does anybody realistically want to see a forward line of Dwyer, Sapong and Saad a month into the season? Depth needs to be functional, what we have is future prospects.
Peterson Joseph? 2012′s shot in the dark. Probably won’t amount to anything at all.
I think the forward line as a whole is probably a little weaker in 2012 as a whole. No matter how you care to button Bobby Convey into some mythical lego man soccer player role.
Kamara needs to eliminate going for months without a goal, needs to finish a tad better and if he does so he could be a 15 a goal season guy. We really need that in 2012.
Sapong need to turn his amazing athletic ability, balance and ability to win the ball in the air into more than support play. A forward needs a cutting edge, if he finds it he will be immense. I do not believe him to be a natural goal scorer.
I am treating Bunbury like he is going to basically be on USMNT duty this year, if they changes he will feature, if he does I hope to god he starts to live up to the hype. He shows flashes, in between massive gluts of poor play. We need to see less peaks and valleys and more consistent play from him.
Zusi, Espinoza, Cesar. As long as those three names were available to us I didn’t have much qualms about it being the midfield of choice for us. Upgrading from either would probably, in all reality require DP investment or an incredible stroke of good fortune. The starting trio have been great – but Cesar could well be pulled into defensive duty and this becomes about depth once more. Yay we are stacked there are lot of warm bodies with pulses and feet and stacked stacked … whatev. Konrad Warzycha is a rookie, Peterson Joseph has skill in abundance and weighs six pounds. He isn’t stepping to Graham Zusi’s shoes as a replacement either, he is more apt to run at people than play great passes.
As for the rest of them? Nobody ever won an MLS title because they signed Paulo Nagamura and Luke Sassano. The former is at best Jack Jewsbury, more prone to injuries and the latter is a journeyman, albeit with a fancy sandwich named after him (check out Pandolfi’s Deli!). Neither are on a par with the departed Davy Arnaud. Michael “Lorenz” Thomas and Lawrence “Diop” Olum round out the ranks.
It isn’t as impressive as it should be. Having lost Jeferson as a DP (which really was no loss) Sporting KC have failed to find a replacement and this is one of two areas we really could have used the help. Thomas looks serviceable – I think he could be a great signing but that remains to be seen, Olum likewise needs to prove himself but there is not a single player on the roster who has been brought in that improves the midfield over the starters we had in 2011. I believe that injury free Arnaud or Rocastle probably beat out Nagamura. The one thing all three have in common however is their ability to be injured so … we’ll hardly notice the difference.
There is literally nobody that can come in and cover the wiley Cesar, the tenacious Espinoza or the classy Zusi on our bench.
The midfield is probably marginally weaker for the loss of experienced depth in Arnaud and Rocastle. Nagamura may fill a bit of that hole if he is healthy. He isn’t good at being healthy.
Same as it was in 2011? Probably. Can Harrington step it up and take his job back over from Chance? Probably not – Chance is just coming into his own, Harrington is reaching what I deem to be his peak, and his only real hope is that injury well let him back in. Solid Sinovic is likely to be solid Sinovic again. Besler is a real team leader, Collin on the other hand is a genuine footballing wild man and will likely be booked, sent off or banned more often than is necessary for any professional.
Who is the backup? Well we can pull Cesar out of midfield but he is weak as a central defender and it’d sink our midfield. New Diop Olum looks ok, but Cyprian Hedrick beyond him is another rookie – you cannot make mistakes in central defense, we can’t just toss him into MLS play and have it work out. A veteran or two here would have been great. The starting four are particularly strong in my opinion, but beyond that there is again little to supplement them.
As good as I felt about the team coming out of 2011, I do not share the optimism of many now. I believe that if you are not actively moving forwards and improving in MLS you are going backwards. I can not think of a single aspect of the team that has improved over the post season other than the depth standings and upon closer examination I don’t think much of the depth. As players that will serve us well down the road they are admirable pickups, but to win today we need individuals that can get the job done now, not players that need to learn on the job.
DC United will be improved. I believe Houston will improve. This thing won’t be a cake walk and I could easily see us finishing 3rd in the East. The one thing we have going for us is the work ethic and desire of the players – the likes of Zusi and Besler, Myers and co that are out to prove a point, who have worked harder this off season than ever before. They intend to raise their game above the level of 2011 – I worry slightly that they may not have had enough downtime and this might translate into more injuries, or fatigue once the dog days of summer arrive. The extra conditioning may also be the springboard they need, and may have also provided intangible benefits that doing things as a team can provide, like the willingness to leave it all on the field because you brothers are going to do just that ….
2012 is a mental game. A season about growth, and individual responsibility and drive within a team setting. If the players can raise their game above the level they were at then winning the Eastern Conference is realistic, if they come in resting on their laurels or are over confident it may take a while for this team to settle down if a defeats stack up early. I think it is realistic to say that some players will improve … and some will likely step back to a lesser level. Players lose form, they get injured. The depth behind them? Not sure it is there and this more than anything is why I wanted a DP. A player like De Rosario who can take over a game and run it, somebody who grows when the pressure is on – the little extra touch of class that could push us over the edge from being a mere contender to a serious serious candidate for the MLS Cup.
I do not think we are there, I do not think we stack up against the very best teams in MLS.
I am a fan of Peter Vermes, a fan of the way he plays but he appears to have issues adapting to situations. The 2010 season it took a long time before he dropped Stephane Auvray back in front of the central defense closing a hole that undermined the team for months. In 2011 on the road we attacked frequently and hard and pushed up and leaked goals, it took until the Seattle game for a tweak, dropping back 15 yards or so to stabilize thing. Both were glaringly obvious tactical needs (to me at least) but it took weeks and weeks before these changes were made.
This can not happen in 2012, there is no road trip to blame it on. Unlike 2010 this is not a rebuilding year. Peter Vermes has his team, and he has done well building it on the whole but now he needs to step up and coach that team better, make his tactical decisions more quickly, react more quickly during games. The players need to step up, but so does the management of those players.
If Sporting KC #PaintTheWall it will be with the US Open Cup. I do not believe Sporting KC are in any danger of competing for the Supporters Shield even if they wind up 4th or 5th I expect them to be well off the pace. I believe that once the team makes the playoffs – which it will, that it is basically all a crap shoot but I do not believe we can beat Seattle or the LA Galaxy on their turf in the MLS Cup Final and I expect them both to finish above Sporting KC in the regular season standings and therefor will have home field advantage. That said beating Houston or DC United is no forgone conclusion and therefor reaching that final is nothing I expect or demand.
Sporting KC will compete, will be competitive, but will need some luck with injuries to go further and contend. That or sign somebody late … 2012’s Aurelien Collin that changes the situation a bit. As it is we all got really good at telling ourselves we were close in 2011 but the Dynamo proved how far that was from the truth and LA are a class above them. My prediction? Without more talent… We are out of the playoffs before the Conference Final, and we paint the wall with …. 2012 : Won nothing at all …
…. or maybe Bob Geldof shaving his nipples off.