I think there are probably only five known knowns right now as it pertains to Sporting Kansas City's roster: Jimmy Nielsen is the starting keeper, Roger Espinoza and Michael Harrington are the fullbacks, Ryan Smith will start on the left in some form (whether a traditional left midfielder or the left winger role he played last year), Davy Arnaud will be in the middle and Omar Bravo sill start ... somewhere.
The preseason starts today, and pretty much every other position is probably up for grabs. The most important positional quandary that needs untangled is central defense (that one might not be clear until mid-February) and there should be a fight for time in midfield with Jack Jewsbury, Graham Zusi, Luke Sassano, Stephane Auvray, Craig Rocastle and unnamed Euro attacking mid fighting for spots.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
But the most interesting battle to watch is how playing time unfolds up top. The team struggled last year in front of the net, scoring 36 goals in 30 games; they were shut out 11 times. If you throw out the three games the team scored four goals (and, since I'm in the media, I'm fully allowed to ignore all positives and focus on the negatives), they only scored a paltry 26 goals in 27 games. I wasn't a math major, but that's less than 1 goal a game.
To remedy this issue, KC has brought in a goal-scoring designated player in Bravo. They also will be trialing a max-contract attacking midfielder from Europe and have Bunbury coming off a rather spectacular off-season capped by his first international goal on Saturday night against Chile. I'm four paragraphs in and I'm just now mentioning the team's leading scorer from 2010, Kei Kamara.
If Peter Vermes keeps the 4-3-3 formation (and all signs point to the team using last year to build the foundation for this formation), he has seven guys to play three spots: Bravo, potential break-out star Teal Bunbury, creative playmaker Smith, Kamara, lighting-in-a-bottle-twice-last-year Birahim Diop, 2011 first-round draft pick C.J. Sapong and former No. 1 overall pick and converted fullback Chance Myers.
The 4-3-3 can't really have too many forwards.* The four most likely starters are Bravo, Smith, Bunbury and Kamara. Diop, Myers and Sapong will fight for scraps mostly likely. Meaning, if you follow my logic above, Kamara vs. Bunbury is the must-watch position battle this winter.
*And it can't have too many flexible forwards. Kamara can play centrally or right; Bunbury can do all three; and Myers can flop wings. The team says Bravo and Sapong have multi-position capability. Only Smith and Diop are really one position guys (Smith is a left-side attacker; Diop a bully target forward though he once was a defensive midfielder).
I think the inside line is on Bunbury over Kamara. It has to be. Bunbury has had an amazing past few months (Vermes joked that Bunbury returning might be the team's most important off-season acquisition) and keeping him on the bench might stunt his growth. Also, Kamara's laid-back personality might make him an ideal off-the-bench scoring option late in games. Whatever way Vermes goes, it's likely to be a much deeper and more talented front-line than in 2010.
This, for a team that had trouble scoring last year, is what I like to call a really good problem to have. And one to really watch very closely.