The Full 90

Arnaud sets sights high for Sporting KC this season

Sporting Kansas City captain (and also its longest-tenured player) Davy Arnaud isn’t shy when giving out his expectations for 2011.

“We feel like we have the potential to not just sneak into the playoffs, but the potential to be competing to win our conference and ultimately be playing in the MLS Cup final,” Arnaud said during a conference call on Tuesday from Phoenix, Ariz., where the team is training for the season.

Before anyone starts engraving their championship rings though, the team will have to fix the two major problems that plagued the team in 2010: Defensive lapses and poor finishing.

While efforts to improve both have been made to revamp the defense (no less than six defensive players were either drafted by the team or brought in for a preseason trial) and improve the offense (striker Omar Bravo* and first-round draft pick C.J. Sapong were the biggest splashes), the team’s basic strategy from last year hasn’t changed.

*Arnaud: “Omar has been very good. From the first day he’s come in, he’s shown that he wants to buy into what we are trying to do. He works hard every day. He’s been very positive for us.”

The captain said he expects to assume the same role he occupied last year -- one of the attacking midfield positions in a 4-3-3 -- and for the team to play the same high-pressure style.

“Aggressive is the word,” he said to describe the team’s philosophy.” We don’t want to be a team that sits back and allows other teams to dictate. We want to be the aggressors, playing home and away.”

One of the key tenets of the team’s culture change in 2010 was a renewed emphasis on fitness. During the offseason, each player had a specifically tailored fitness plan from coach Mateus Manoel so they could report to camp ready to play.

“Where we’re at right now is definitely further along than we were at the same point last year,” Arnaud said.” Peter [Vermes] felt the starting point [this year] would be farther along and it has been.”

In an effort to create more competition, Kansas City has more than 30 players with the team during their training camp. “I don’t know if we’ve necessarily had as much (competition) as we should’ve in previous years, but we do this year,” Arnaud said.

“When you have a number of players in camp that can legitimately be starters and are legitimately pushing to start, it not only helps individuals get better, it helps the team improve. When you’re playing on edge every day to prove yourself it makes your play better and collectively raises the play of the team.”

He acknowledges that the team fell short of expectations last year. “We realize now (in 2011) what it’s going to take on a consistent basis to be where we want to be. We’re aiming high and we have a good enough team to get home field in the playoffs and to be playing on the last day of the season,” he said.

And what a home-field advantage that could be, as the single biggest change from 2010 to 2011 is the new stadium. “I can’t describe how excited I am about that personally,” Arnaud said.

Of course, the team will have to start with a few road games before the stadium opens on June 9.

“If you told us we had to play 16 road games to open the season, every player here would say, 'Absolutely, let’s do it.' It’s going to be a special place for us. We’re fortunate to have the group of owners we have who have shown faith in us and we want to return the favor and be the team we know we can be.”

The team will hold an intra-squad scrimmage today at 12 p.m.