The Full 90

2013 Preview: Sporting KC's midfield continues to evolve

Updated: 2013-03-01T07:18:16Z

Charles Gooch

The Kansas City Star

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 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: Kansas City find new pieces of a new-look midfield.

Hello: Benny Feilhaber (trade from New England), Mikey Lopez (MLS SuperDraft), Christian Duke (Supplemental Draft)
Goodbye: Roger Espinoza (free transfer to Wigan), Julio Cesar (option declined), Luke Sassano (option declined)

Storyline to Watch: How Kansas City transitions to a new tactical set-up in the middle.

This year, Kansas City will break in two new starters in midfield with Oriol Rosell stepping in for Julio Cesar and Feilhaber assuming the role of creative midfielder (a position that Kansas City didn't have after Graham Zusi moved up to forward). Paulo Nagamura figures to resume his box-to-box duties.

It's a group that presents Peter Vermes with a potential new style of play: Building from the back and playing through the middle.

With Espinoza around, it wasn't always easy to build that way -- his movement in breaking up play and harrying an opponent could often take him out of the middle during the offensive buildup. Thus, Kansas City would often start wide and push the attack inside.

They will certainly miss that sort of Espinoza "destroyer" role. But if KC can create scoring chances from the midfield by building through the middle, it could be a tactical jackpot for a team that often lacked a second option in 2012.

Key Figure:
Nagamura

Throughout his coaching tenure, Vermes has tended to favor a veteran/leadership presence on the field. Davy Arnaud. Julio Cesar. This year, my take is that it's Nagamura's turn. He'll be the glue that holds the midfield together and, while he might not end the season as the regular starting midfielder, his defense, under-rated technical skill and read of the game will help the two (likely) new starters next to him mesh into the squad.

Biggest Questions:
How much will KC miss Espinoza's relentless pressing? Is a change of scenery all Feilhaber needs to rejuvenate his career? What happens if Rosell struggles? Is Rosell sturdy enough defensively to cover for the rampaging forward runs of Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic? Can Peterson Joseph harness his ferocity enough (he picked up a really reckless red card this preseason already) to see the field? What sort of plan does Vermes have for his two new athletic youngsters, Lopez and Duke?

Projected Depth Chart:
Defensive Midfielder
1. Oriol Rosell
2. Lawrence Olum
3. Michael Thomas
4. Josh Gardner

Box-to-Box/Destroyer Midfielder
1. Paulo Nagamura
2. Josh Gardner
3. Mikey Lopez
4. Michael Thomas

Attacking Midfielder
1. Benny Feilhaber
2. Peterson Joseph
3. Christian Duke

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