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Sporting KC ’14 preview: The league’s best defense is back

03/04/2014 9:42 AM

03/07/2014 2:46 PM

When you add the gold star to your uniform, everyone comes gunning for you the next year. Every opponent brings its A game every night. Either they want to knock you off or prove a point. Or both.

This year, thats what Sporting Kansas City can expect week in, week out.

Good thing KC returns the majority of its title-winning club. To rise to the challenges, theyll likely need each and every player to contribute.

Yesterday, we took at a look at

the goalkeepers

. Today, in part two of the four-part preview, well look at the defense.

The Cast

Returning:

Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Kevin Ellis, Josh Gardner, Mechack Jerome, Chance Myers, Ike Opara, Erik Palmer-Brown, Seth Sinovic

Leaving:

Kyle Miller, Federico Bessone, Brendan Ruiz

Incoming:

None

Leading Man

Collin

Besler gets a lot of the credit for leading this team and rightly so he marshals the defense, makes timely interceptions, reads the game well and distributes calmly from the back.

Its the Frenchman, however, who sets the tone for a highly aggressive team that likes to harass and pester opponents. Granted, Collin often takes to this job with a little too much enthusiasm. Note his league-leading 13 yellow cards last year.

But theres more to Collin than his aggression. In 2013, he was one of the league leaders in interceptions and clearances per game (both critical metrics to monitor defensive actions) and he led all defenders in aerial duels won. For good measure, Collin was the leading scorer in the MLS playoffs (3) and nailed the winning penalty against Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup final.

If he can cut down on some of his extra-curricular off-the-ball physicality (and his tendency to get caught flat-footed on the occasional off-side trap), he can help the defense absorb the added games and pressure, as well as the absence of Besler when the World Cup arrives.

Unsung Hero

Sinovic

The teams dependable left back didnt make a lot of headlines this offseason, despite spending January training with the U.S. national team. It was his fellow fullback, Myers, who drew the headlines (and also a U.S. national team look) with protracted contract negotiations.

Sinovic deserves attention. While he might lack the top-line speed that many teams covet in a fullback, he more than makes up for it in hustle and determination. He was vital during KCs MLS Cup run, scoring a beautiful goal against New England and blocking two key shots

including stopping a breakaway with four minutes to play

in the MLS Cup final against Salt Lake.

That moment should live in MLS history.

One to Watch

Palmer-Brown

A lot of attention has been paid already this year on KCs teenage defensive phenom. Mostly because Italian club Juventus has been rebuffed despite several reported offers. The team, obviously, think very highly of the homegrown layer. Highly enough to give him some time with the senior team this year? There will be a lot of games this year (especially during the Open Cup or the World Cup) to find out.

Big Number

33-8-9

Sporting KCs all-time record with Myers, Collin, Besler and Sinovic starting together. During the last two years, Kansas City has finished with the leagues best defensive record allowing a somewhat ridiculous 0.83 goals per game.

Big Question

Can Opara push his way into the regular starting lineup?

In his first season with the team last year, Opara made 18 appearances filling in at times for either Besler and Collin. Hes a beast in the air (second amongst defenders behind Collin in aerial duels), has tremendous speed and made KC one of the deepest defenses in the entire league.

It was an added bonus that he pitched in three goals this year, but the important part is that the team never lost a beat when he stepped in.


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