Sporting KC

Four key questions for Sporting Kansas City heading into MLS opener

The return of midfielder Roger Espinoza, along with several offseason acquisitions, has made things crowded in the middle of the park for Sporting Kansas City.
The return of midfielder Roger Espinoza, along with several offseason acquisitions, has made things crowded in the middle of the park for Sporting Kansas City. The Kansas City Star

Sporting Kansas City kicks off its regular-season Major League Soccer schedule on March 8, when the New York Red Bulls visit Sporting Park. Here are five key questions for the team’s 2015 season:

1. Who starts in the midfield?

The return of Roger Espinoza, along with several offseason acquisitions, has made things crowded in the middle of the park.

That’s not a bad thing. Manager Peter Vermes says “competition drives success,” and he certainly has it for his three starting midfielder positions.

Benny Feilhaber had an under-the-radar superb season for Sporting KC in 2014, and Espinoza’s value is evident. Those two are near-locks to start.

So what does Vermes do with the third slot? History would say it goes to a defensive midfielder, but Vermes hinted at moving away from his traditional 4-3-3 formation this season, and that could mean playing Feilhaber, Espinoza and another attacking midfielder, such as Krisztian Nemeth, simultaneously. Nemeth has seen time in an underneath attacking role in the preseason, and while he was brought in this offseason primarily to add a scoring punch behind Dom Dwyer, he’s impressed the coaching staff enough in camp that Vermes is searching for ways to keep him on the field.

That could leave veteran Paulo Nagamura as the odd man out in the starting lineup.

2. How will the new players integrate into the system?

It was a busy offseason for Sporting KC. The roster features 12 additions — a product of a disappointing conclusion to the 2014 season.

The transition to become “Sporting Fit,” though, doesn’t often happen overnight. Espinoza will be the exception, of course, considering he’s spent time with Vermes already. But the club is expecting big contributions, even early in the season, from wing Bernardo Anor and forward Krisztian Nemeth, among others.

Is a month in Tucson, Ariz., long enough to complete the adaptation process? Time will tell.

3. Can Sporting KC stay healthy?

The beginning of the end for the 2014 team can arguably be traced back to the first half of the season, when the club lost defenders Ike Opara and Chance Myers to season-ending injuries.

What kind of production will those two offer this season?

Aurelien Collin was traded to Orlando City SC after his contract demands were deemed too large, leaving Opara as the primary option to start alongside captain Matt Besler. Opara is expected to be ready for the season opener. Myers could take another month to return.

But returning to the field and returning to full form are two different realities.

4. Will Luis Marin offer better goalkeeper production?

Within a month after the conclusion of the 2014 season, Sporting KC declined options on veteran keepers Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum.

In their place, Vermes brought in Chilean keeper Luis Marin, a 31-year-old who has spent his 12-year professional career in his home country.

Marin will offer improved distribution out of the back, but he’s also shown signs of over-aggressive play in preseason appearances.

To reach Sam McDowell, call 816-234-4869 or send email to smcdowell@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SamMcDowell11.

Sporting KC 2015 MLS regular-season schedule

Date

Opponent

Time

TV

Sun., March 8

vs. New York Red Bulls

6 p.m.

Fox Sports 1

Sat., March 14

at FC Dallas

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sat., March 21

vs. Portland Timbers

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sat., March 28

at New York City FC

6 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sun., April 5

vs. Philadelphia Union

6 p.m.

Fox Sports 1

Sat., April 11

vs. Real Salt Lake

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sat., April 18

at LA Galaxy

9:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sat., April 25

at Houston Dynamo

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sun., May 3

vs. Chicago Fire

4 p.m.

ESPN2

Sat., May 9

at D.C. United

6 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sat., May 16

vs. Colorado Rapids

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Wed., May 20

vs. New England Revolution

7 p.m.

ESPN2

Sat., May 23

at Seattle Sounders

9 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Fri., May 29

vs. FC Dallas

8 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)/UniMas

Sat., June 6

vs. Seattle Sounders

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sun., June 21

at Real Salt Lake

9 p.m.

Fox Sports 1

Sat., June 27

vs. Colorado Rapids

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sun., July 12

at Vancouver Whitecaps

8 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sat., July 18

vs. Montreal Impact

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Fri., July 24

at Real Salt Lake

10 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)/UniMas

Sat., Aug. 1

vs. Houston Dynamo

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sat., Aug. 8

at Toronto FC

3 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sat., Aug. 15

vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

8 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Wed., Aug. 19

vs. San Jose Earthquakes

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sat., Aug. 22

at Columbus Crew

6:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sat., Aug. 29

at Colorado Rapids

8 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Wed., Sept. 9

at Portland Timbers

9:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sun., Sept. 13

at Orlando City SC

6 p.m.

Fox Sports 1

Fri., Sept. 18

vs. FC Dallas

6 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)/UniMas

Wed., Sept. 23

at Houston Dynamo

7:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sun., Sept. 27

vs. Seattle Sounders

4 p.m.

ESPN2

Sat., Oct. 3

at Portland Timbers

9:30 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Fri., Oct. 16

at San Jose Earthquakes

10 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

Sun., Oct. 25

vs. LA Galaxy

6 p.m.

KMCI (Ch. 38)

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