While 2014 was fairly frustrating on the field for Sporting Kansas City, Dom Dwyer stood out as a shining bright spot. The young forward bulled his way into the KC record books with 22 goals — breaking Preki’s single-season record of 18.
But one of KC’s biggest problems? Dwyer didn’t get a lot of help scoring goals. Graham Zusi (5) and Benny Feilhaber (4) were second and third on the team in goals — and neither has been, historically, considered a scoring threat. Zusi missed nearly a month on World Cup duty while Feilhaber scored his despite operating in a much deeper midfield role than usual.
The rest of the forwards disappointed. And, at the end of the season, Peter Vermes moved nearly all of them off the roster.
C.J. Sapong recorded career lows in starts (7) and goals (2). He’s now in Philadelphia. Soony Saad produced a little bit more than C.J. (9 starts and 3 goals), but was unable to perform consistently enough or do enough to impress his coach. He’s in Thailand. Newcomers Sal Zizzo and Antonio Dovale also had extended runs in the starting lineup, but both failed the consistency test — and provided 1 league goal between them. Zizzo wound up with the New York Red Bulls; Dovale back in Spain in the second division.
And then there was Claudio Bieler. After losing his job to Dwyer, designated player Bieler became a well-paid bench warmer who failed in several attempts to reclaim his role. His playing time fell off a cliff (after 28 games in 2013, he played just 13 times in the league in ‘14) and his goal totals went with it (2 goals after leading the team with 10 in ‘13). We’ll always have his goal against New England to clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference Final, but his departure this offseason back to Argentina was a foregone conclusion over the last 11 months.
To replace those departed forwards, Vermes added former Liverpool player Krisztian Nemeth and two high-upside draft picks in Connor Hallisey and James Ansu Rogers. Not a lot of league experience. Will it be enough to support Dwyer this season?
(age / nationality / MLS experience / previous club/college)
Dom Dwyer (24, England, 4th season, none), Connor Hallisey (22, USA, 1st season, University of California), Krisztian Nemeth (26, Hungary, 1st season, Roda JC Kerkrade - The Netherlands), Jacob Peterson (29, USA, 9th season, San Jose Earthquakes), James Ansu Rogers (21, Sierra Leone, 1st season, University of New Mexico)
Claudio Bieler (contract mutually terminated), Soony Saad (out of contract), C.J. Sapong (traded to Philadelphia)
New in Town: Nemeth
The breakout player from preseason, Nemeth scored 5 goals in Arizona playing either as the main striker or playing as an attacking midfielder just behind Dwyer. He’s shown good instincts in the box, good vision pulling a few strings in attack and, most importantly, an ease with the formation and system KC plays.
The Hungarian spent time as a teenager with Liverpool (and also Olympiacos in Greece) before settling in the Dutch Eredivise. So he has a good pedigree. While he wasn’t known for his scoring output in the Netherlands, his multi-positional skill set (he can also play on either wing) and good showing in preseason could see him become a Vermes staple sooner rather than later.
Welcome Back: Dwyer
It seems like every offseason since he’s been part of the team, rumors have swirled around Christmas-time that the English-born striker will head overseas on some sort of loan or trial. After his career year in 2014, that figured to be the case again. And, to a certain extent it was — but he never left. In fact, he actually settled down marrying U.S. national team forward Sydney Leroux and moving together to Kansas City.
He’ll look to continue to build upon his big season as he goes into the season as the unquestioned No. 1 option at striker.
Big Number: 46%
That’s how many of Kansas City’s overall goals were scored by Dwyer in 2014. That’s an incredible load to carry by a single player. How big? Over the five seasons between 2010 and 2013, Kansas City’s top scorer has never been responsible for more than 33% of the teams overall goals — that was Josh Wolff with 11 of 33 back 2009.
Sam McDowell, Sporting KC beat reporter: While Dom Dwyer unsurprisingly has his eyes set on topping last year’s 22-goal season, the club’s stumble down the stretch proved that relying solely on the striker isn’t a reliable formula. The scoring load needs to fall on more than one man.
Who will step up to be that second option? It turned into an unreliable revolving door last season, and Sporting KC has overhauled its front line in search of it in 2015. Bernardo Añor will likely see the start on the wing opposite Graham Zusi, and Krisztian Nemeth was brought in to supply an added scoring punch.
Charles Gooch, Full 90 blogger: One of Kansas City’s struggles in the attacking half last year can be chalked up to a lack of production and consistency on the wing opposite of Zusi. Zizzo, Sapong, Dovale and Peterson all played there — none took control. Look for Bernardo Añor (previewed earlier with the midfield) to take hold of that left wing/midfield slot. He’s a decent goal-scoring threat (6 last year in Columbus), but he also allows Zusi to play his more comfortable role on the right wing. A comfortable Zusi could lead to better chances for Dwyer.
During preseason, Nemeth got a lot of run-out as an attacking midfielder. While his talent is intriguing in that spot, it leaves the bench practically bare for striker options late in the game. At one point during the preseason, Jacob “The Answer” Peterson had to slot into that spot. While JP can play a lot of positions, that’s not really one of his strengths.