I left this late so I could be as sure as possible – but in doing so may have become subject to a bit of pre-season excitement. Either way after coming back to this a couple of times today …. I feel like its also fairly realistic.
Writing a season preview for Sporting Kansas City this season has been a bit of a challenge. Last year at this time we had literally hours and hours of friendly games we could attend and they gave you a pretty good idea about the personnel, tactics and what to expect coming into the new season. Preseason in 2011 has been dominated by off the field events and we have seen everything from re-branding, to stadium naming, World Cup draws, BoonBooRee and now Chad Ochocinco. What we haven’t had is real exposure – there hasn’t been a single friendly game in town, and nobody reporting or blogging about Sporting Kansas City has seen the team play in the flesh.
As you can imagine gauging things with this backdrop is a challenge. On January 24th, on the first day of preseason I wrote about the areas of the team we needed to improve upon. You can read the original post here, but in a nut shell it boiled down to this:
We need an upgrade at right wing.
We need to find some midfield creativity.
We need major help in our central defense.
We need depth on the wings.
I concluded with the following:
If we do as well [in the transfer market] as we did overall in 2011 and find the extra handful of players than genuinely improve our squad I will be more than impressed. With less than two months to go until the season begins however it remains to be seen if we can get the job done. Call me negative if you want, but it is a tall order to turn a middle of the “pack also ran” into a contender inside of eight weeks, and that is also reality.
It is almost eight weeks later. What has changed since then? Not terribly much, but maybe just enough to tip us over the edge. Omar Bravo has come in and convinced me that he is a substantial and high quality addition to the squad but he is in a position that we are really deep in. Our forward line now consists of Kamara, Smith, Bravo, Bunbury, Sapong and Diop. Forgive me if I sound like a cheerleader but if you can find a better forward staff in MLS give me a shout. We have power, we have pace, creativity, finesse, physical presence, and hopefully goals. It is a mouthwatering array of options and styles. So Kamara isn’t my ideal right winger but if that is the biggest problem we have then we are set. It isn’t, he isn’t, I have faith that he will keep improving.
Despite the forwards somebody will need to open the door for the them and this is where the creativity in midfield becomes an issue. Maybe. Stephane Auvray appears to be on the outside looking in as new signing Miloš Stojčev looks to have earned himself a spot in the starting eleven. He is to all extents and purposes a different player, but he is impressive – has a nice touch and links well with forwards. A new look midfield anchored by the calm efficiency of Rocastle, the work and heart of Davy Arnaud and the deft graceful Stojčev seems on the surface to be the way forward.
Stojčev isn’t the big name signing everybody was pining for however he appears to be a quality player and might just add that little bit extra that turns our midfield from utilitarian to productive.
Forward and Midfield look like they can get the job done but in order for them to work our defense, and especially our central defense will need to step up and that to me falls on the shoulders of one unusual person.
Matt Besler may well hold the key to our season.
Didn’t expect that did you? Well maybe but it would have been news two months ago.
The reality is that Besler is the one player who needs to, and can rise above everything he has done before and in doing so will make most difference.
If the central defense does not step up its game our midfield will have to drop back to help them out. This is why Stephane Auvray spent 2010 basically defending our defenders. Shavar Thomas is a known quantity, dependable, strong, big but lumbering and beaten for pace easily. Júlio César Santos Correa, our new Brazilian is a lightweight, technically gifted passer but doesn’t appear to be overly aggressive in pursuit of the ball, has oddly suspect tackling when I have seen him and I am hoping rather than looking for him to impress. When he has time on the ball he will be an asset but under pressure still has me concerned.
This is where Besler comes in because somebody is going to need to step up and Matt is that guy. He hasn’t reached his potential yet, and while César may improve as he adapts to the league between him and Shavar Thomas I think this is as good as they are going to get. Besler came into preseason carrying more muscle, and the defiant attitude of a guy looking to make an impression and prove some people wrong. He has all the tools, now he simply has to use them and play hard. If he does he will free everybody ahead of him to get on with the business of scoring goals.
What to expect from the season
I would expect that tactically we do not deviate much from 2010, that the game plan is essentially unchanged however with Bravo dropping off occasionally to make things happen for Kamara, Teal or anybody in front of him. I think Bravo’s first touch, his deft flicks, solid technique and raw ability will lead to our forwards making more chances between them and as much as we want him to be a scorer his ability and movement will create space and he will pose a threat in terms of assists. I think he is good enough that he will improve everybody around him however I think that he may be better playing off a big man like Teal or Kamara and it would not surprise me at all if he winds up needing a bit more support. We may see two central forwards yet.
While I have been broadly positive I don’t think the squad as a whole has improved immensely over 2010 however that is not necessarily needed. Yes we lacked goals, and yes we gave away some silly ones however what killed us was a three month stretch in the middle of the season where we were simply pathetic frequently. We earned the bulk of our points in the second half of the season and if we can simply eliminate the disastrous stretch we will more than compete. If we capitulate on the road trip and come home basically empty handed then we will have a mountain to climb however if we manage 10-12 points from the nine road games to start the season we should be all set for a run into the post season.
All provided that defense holds ….
We are banged up. Teal has his elbow injury, Smith is out for weeks, Harrington is questionable and we also lose Auvray, Shavar and Kei Kamara during the Fire game. With Chivas and the Fire both being seen as winnable losing a lot of names may make these games more of a challenge than some of the later ones. We will see – but I have a good feeling about things and even if the beginning is a little rough. I think we will improve as the season goes on and I think not traveling much in the latter part of the season will make up for any real damage to our points standing done in this first third of the season.