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. Wednesday, the midfield. Today, we look at a group that is fairly unchanged from last years group and will be under serious pressure to produce: The forwards.The Cast
Claudio Bieler, Dom Dwyer, Jacob Peterson, Soony Saad, C.J. Sapong, Graham Zusi
Sal ZizzoLeading Man
Looking only at the numbers, its hard to figure out the Argentine designated players 2013 season. He led the team in scoring with 10 goals and, with his four assists, was responsible for nearly 30 percent of KCs offense. He scored the game-winning goal in the first-round playoff series against New England and is the best pure finisher on the team.
However, he only managed to go 90 minutes in 12 of his 28 appearances and didnt go the full 90 in any game after June 1. Also, seven of his 10 goals came between March 2nd and June 1st.
A combination of injury, fitness and tactical omission kept him out of the starting lineup for 13 of the teams last 14 games. The younger Dwyer took over his starting spot and pushed him to the bench for three of the five playoff games.
Was that a good year? A disappointing year? Both? Probably both. Which wasnt really good enough for what was expected of him and his high salary. Kansas City needs better from him this year to compete in the league and the champions league.
By all accounts this preseason, Bieler has been reinvigorated and Sporting fit. He led the team in goals (5) and assists (6) this preseason playing in both the traditional striker role and in a new underneath striker/attacking midfielder position.
This half-volley in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic final was something to watch over and over and over again.
In 2013, Zusi didnt quite live up to his MVP-caliber season in 2012 with six goals and eight assists. Which means he only had a regular excellent season. (In 2012, he scored five times and was tied for the league lead with 15 assists.)
Part of that decline was a decrease in games played (32 to 27) because of time spent with the U.S. national team. The other part? He wasnt sneaking up on teams anymore. Defenses last year made neutralizing Zusi the key to their game plan and after a hot start (half his goals and assists came between March 2 and May 5), he struggled to find room to operate and unleash accurate crosses into the box.
If Bieler and Benny Feilhaber can help take some of the creative burden off Zusis shoulders, it could free up Zusi to do what he does best: Finding dangerous spots on the field to operate and create room for accurate crosses.One to Watch
The former Portland man wasnt a marquee signing, but he offers Kansas City a new dimension at forward: Hes a true winger, not a converted striker like Sapong and Saad or an attacking midfielder like Zusi. He will hug the right touchline and could prove very useful in games where KC needs to play a possession game.Big Number
of Kansas Citys 47 regular-season goals in 2013 came when Bieler was on the field. Nine came when Dwyer was on the field; two when Bunbury was on. He might not have contributed to every goal scored, but his positioning and movement without the ball certainly helped juice KCs offense.Big Question
How will Vermes manage the minutes for his corps of forwards?
So far in this preview, weve talked about Bieler, Zusi and Zizzo. We havent even really mentioned Sapong or Dwyer, who both started in the MLS Cup final. You can pencil both guys into the game day 18 most nights as both bring necessary aerial and athletic components to KCs front line.
Saad provides an offensive-minded spark to the wing roles (and the teams best shot), while Peterson is a defensive-midfielder playing winger. Both are situational players and could play regularly for most MLS teams.
Thats a lot of forwards clamoring for minutes on this team. Even with Bunbury leaving for New England, that doesnt open up a lot space. If everyone is healthy, you could see Peterson/Saad/Sapong or Zizzo not even on the bench during a match. Thats depth. Thats also going to be a struggle for Peter Vermes to find the right balance, mixture and somehow keep everyone happy.