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.
On Monday, we took at a look at the goalkeepers. Tuesday, it was the defense. Now weve reached Part Three: The Midfield. An area that has more questions surrounding it than others.The Cast
Christian Duke, Benny Feilhaber, Peterson Joseph, Mikey Lopez, Jimmy Medranda, Paulo Nagamura, Lawrence Olum, Oriol Rosell
Alex Martinez (2014 SuperDraft selection)Leading Man
Peter Vermes said last year that Feilhaber had the answers in the final third for Kansas City.
In 2013, he didnt always show up with those answers. In 27 regular season games, he had three goals and four assists. One of his goals was quite amazing, though.
The basic problems was fitness. Feilhaber struggled to finish the games he started (only three 90-minute games all year), and, by the end of the year, struggled to get on the field at all (he was an unused sub three of KCs last four regular-season games). But, when the playoffs rolled around, he came up huge.
He created the game-winning goal in the New England series after intercepting a pass and finding Claudio Bieler in the box. Then, against Houston, he conjureda beautiful assist for Dom Dwyers game-winning goal
. He showed, to a national audience, that when hes on his game, there arent a lot of midfielders in MLS quite like him.
So, which Benny will KC have this year: The erratic potential superstar stuck to the attacking half from the summer or the dynamic and creative box-to-box midfielder from the fall?
A properly motivated and fit Feilhaber could be the difference maker who leads KC to another deep MLS Cup run. He takes the pressure off Graham Zusi and, as Vermes predicted, has the answers KC often needs in the final third.Unsung Hero
Even though he was a regular starter in 2013, the Spaniard is still a bit under-the-radar. A lot of that is because of his age (hes only 21) and the position he plays (defensive midfielder). Which is unfair. Rosell was top five in MLS in interceptions per game (usually a category dominated by defenders and a key measurement for how disruptive a player is to an opponents attack) and was the most-accurate passer for Sporting KC.
With another year under his belt and more experience in reading the game instead of reacting to it and often accumulating unnecessary yellow cards Rosell should move more into the limelight.One to Watch
Since he was a seldom-used midfielder last year (he was on loan from his Colombian club Deportivo Pereira), his full transfer earlier this preseason was but a blip on the Sporting KC radar. That changed after his two-assist, one-goal game against Fluminenses U-23 team during the Disney Pro Soccer Classic. It was a great performance for the 20-year-old, but it did come against an inferior team (the Brazilians finished last in the tournament).
The coaching staff speak highly of him and his technically ability. He brings a change of pace to the midfield, an option to put in there when you need a player who can, as Vermes puts it, put a defender on his back foot.Big Number
different midfield combinations were played by Vermes over the final 16 matches in MLS play and the CONCACAF Champions League. This was due to injuries (Nagamura), form (Feilhaber) and international absence (Zusi). Vermes was trying to find a combination that could provide the right balance (attack vs. defense, press vs. possess).
During the playoffs, the best trio finally pushed to the forefront: Rosell, Nagamura and Feilhaber. Those three were crucial to KCs Cup run. Which was ideal, since injures to Olum and Joseph left Vermes with no other real options.Big Question
How often can Kansas City keep its first-choice midfield on the field?
Nagamura, Feilhaber and Rosell are a perfectly balanced trio. Feilhaber creates offense behind the strikers, Rosell breaks up attacks in front of the defenders and Nagamura shuffles in between supporting the other two. But what happens if one of that trio breaks down? Kansas City gets awfully young and awfully inexperienced pretty quickly.
Olum is capable of filling in for Rosell (as he did in the MLS Cup final) or Nagamura, but the teams overall passing suffers. Zusi is able to drop back into the midfield, though he was often more dangerous in an advanced position.
As for the rest: Who knows when Josephwill be cleared to return to training
and Medranda, Martinez, Lopez and Duke are all under 24 years old and have one minute of MLS experience between them.
This should be an area of concern for Kansas City. And a spot that might need to be strengthened during the summer.