Sporting KC will play five games in the first 15 days of the season and seven games in the opening month. The club amped up its already intense preseason training to better prepare for the heavy workload, but exhibition matches don’t equate to regular season play.
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes feels he has a deep bench breaking out of a camp, and he may be more inclined to use it early in the year. He’s been especially pleased with the play of a younger core of players, most notably 20-year-old midfielder Jimmy Medranda.
Eric Kronberg will get the first shot at the starting goalie gig — replacing the retired Jimmy Nielsen — but newcomer Andy Gruenebaum, who was acquired in an offseason deal with Columbus, should see some time in March, too.2. A new captain
While Sporting KC has adequate on-the-field successors for Nielsen in goal, replacing his locker-room leadership may prove more difficult. Nielsen captained the club for the past two years, prompting Vermes to say Nielsen is the best captain he’s ever coached. Nielsen wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion and lead unpopular but important conversations.
Sporting KC will reveal its new captain Tuesday as part of the Sporting Takeoff event at Hangar 1 of the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport. It will also unveil its new secondary jerseys Tuesday. Hometown talent Matt Besler seems to be the most logical candidate to wear the armband this season, though Graham Zusi and Paulo Nagamura are certainly in that conversation.3. Champions League knockout stage
After winning its CONCACAF Champions League group last season, Sporting KC will play Cruz Azul twice this month as part of a two-game quarterfinals series. It’s a rather daunting task.
The Mexican club has won the CCL five times, tied for the most all-time. After an overhaul of its roster and coaching staff, Cruz Azul entered play Saturday with 7-0-1 record this season and a plus-14 goal differential. Goalie Jesus Corona and forward Marco Fabian were fixtures for the Mexican national team that won Olympic gold in 2012.
Sporting KC is slated to host Cruz Azul on March 12 and will make the return trip to Mexico City on March 19.4. How will position battles unfold?
That aforementioned depth has supplied Sporting KC with some much-welcomed competition in preseason training. A challenge for playing time at striker is shaping up to be the most intriguing position battle early in the season.
Designated player Claudio Bieler already has received the best-shape-of-his-life label, and his preseason production supported that. He tallied five goals.
But Bieler lost his spot in the starting lineup to Dom Dwyer late last season, and Dwyer remains a major part of the club’s plans for 2014. It’s not inconceivable that both players could be in the lineup when Sporting KC opens in Seattle.5. More roster moves on the way
Sporting KC opted for a relatively quiet offseason —
it will return nearly 95 percent of its field minutes from last season — but today’s roster won’t stick until opening day.
The club must loan a minimum of two players to both of its USL Pro affiliates, Orlando City and Oklahoma City, the latter of which will be coached by Nielsen. Those decisions should be announced early this week.
Sporting KC also still would like to add a couple of players to its active roster before Saturday.