Sporting Kansas City are set to embark on one the most ambitious years in franchise history: A 34-game league slate, the defense of its 2012 U.S. Open Cup and its first run in the CONCACAF Champions League. To tackle this three-pronged attack, the front office spent much of the off-season adding new pieces and tinkering with the roster.
The Kansas City Star
The Full 90 will take a look at what's changed, what's stayed the same and what some of the biggest questions are position-by-position over the next few days.
Up next: The midfield evolution
Hello: Ike Opara (trade from San Jose), Yann Songo'o (acquired from Pobla de Mafumet CF), Josh Gardner (trade from Montreal), Mechack Jerome (acquired from Orlando City)
Goodbye: Michael Harrington (traded to Portland), Neven Markovic (option declined), Cyprian Hedrick (option declined), Konrad Warzycha (option declined), Korede Aiyegbusi (option declined)
Storyline to Watch:
Can the 2013 version of KC's back-line actually be deeper and stronger than last season?
Kansas City had the league's best defense last season, allowing just 27 goals. Matt Besler was the MLS Defender of the Year. Aurelien Collin finished third in that voting. Both were in the MLS 2012 Best XI. Collin was an All-Star starter. Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic were both outstanding performers. Sinovic even scored, in my opinion, the best goal of the year for KC.
However, if those four couldn't play (Myers and Sinovic both picked up small injuries in the summer, Collin is a guaranteed yellow-card suspension, and Besler had an appendectomy), Kansas City were short of reliable cover. Lawrence Olum showed well in spots -- especially the U.S. Open Cup final -- but he was the lone standout from the bench. Reserve fullback Harrington appeared in a career low 11 games in 2012. Markovic, Warzycha and Aiyegbusi were never factors.
So all four were sent packing and in came 2010 first-round draft pick Opara and MLS vet Gardner. With Opara, you get a 23-year-old former first-round pick who has loads of athletic upside potential. Gardner is a guy that Vermes wanted to sign a few years ago who provides depth along the entire left side. Songo'o is a young international who didn't stand out in preseason and could be a candidate to send to Orlando City on loan. Jerome projects as depth behind right back Myers.
Last year, he didn't start the season in consideration as one of best defenders in the league. That changed over the summer when Besler began a spectacular second-half of the season that saw him become the MLS Defender of the Year, bully his way into the U.S. national team conversation and receive interest from teams in England. What's his encore?
Who will replace the versatility of Michael Harrington? Is this a make-or-break year for Kevin Ellis? Can Peter Vermes keep his squad rotated enough to keep everyone in the back happy? Have guys like Besler/Myers/Sinovic hit their ceilings or do they have another gear to reach?
Projected Depth Chart:
1. Chance Myers
2. Mechack Jerome
3. Kevin Ellis
4. Kyle Miller
1. Matt Besler
2. Aurelien Collin
3. Ike Opara
4. Lawrence Olum
5. Yann Songo'o
1. Seth Sinovic
2. Josh Gardner
3. Kyle Miller