Major League Soccer team previews: SPORTING KANSAS CITY


Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 2 in the East is Sporting Kansas City:

Significant additions and subtractions: No, Kei Kamara and Roger Espinoza aren’t the biggest names ever to use MLS as a springboard to something bigger. But good heavens, it will be so very difficult to replace these two around Sporting Park. Probably more so than many casual MLS fans believe. SKC fans may have a better understanding of their fierce dedication to the serious work involved in Peter Vermes’ demanding, high pressure ways. (Which is why they are both playing in the world’s top league now, the English Premier League.

Julio Cesar is also gone, but Paulo Nagamura probably has a good hold on that spot.

The big additions started with DP striker Claudio Bieler, who didn’t have a fantastic preseason. Vermes says not to worry.

Not long after, the team added talented two-way midfielder Benny Feilhaber in a trade with New England.

Ike Opara, newly acquired from San Jose and probably in need of a career reboot, will provide center back depth.

Strengths: If there is a better all-around back line in MLS, right, left and center, someone will need to show me. Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic are all among the top seven in ProSoccerTalk’s rankings at their position. (Besler, Myers and Sinovic are all top four.) Behind them, goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is No. 1 in our goalkeeper rankings. So, yeah, there’s a lot of “strong” in all that.

Feilhaber cannot replace Espinoza’s midfield industry or tackling, but the 2010 U.S. World Cup veteran is a superior passer and finisher.

Pressure points: SKC has looked unstoppable, if just a little short of striking power, over the last season and a half of league matches. But the playoffs have proven far more problematic; Vermes’ men fell to Houston in each of the last two years.

Speaking of missing some magic near goal, fans around Sporting Park are still trying to figure out how more than one of those chances didn’t go in as Houston clinched the home-and-away series last fall.

Bieler, who scored reliably in previous club stops in Argentina and Ecuador, needs to duplicate that proficiency. He could be the proverbial “final piece” for a club that’s stacked and packed in goal, in defense and in midfield and not bad out on the wing. (Better on the wing if Zusi is out there, even if it’s not his best spot.)

The schedule will be packed unlike it has been ever before for SKC, with CONCACAF Champions League to deal with, plus the title defense in the U.S. Open Cup.

Bobby Convey? We’ll see. He sure needs to find the next gear.

source: Getty Images

Difference maker: There’s reason to believe Graham Zusi’s career arc remains on the rise. He has seven assists two years ago and then 15 last year. If he goes any higher, Zusi could be flirting with records. His technical ability, fitness, desire and vision through the midfield are all above average. His set-piece delivery is well above average. Zusi may not be Major League Soccer’s best at any one thing, but he’s so well-rounded and so good at a lot of things, it’s no wonder he’s now a U.S. national team regular.

Potential breakout player: Can we call Feilhaber a “breakout” player? U.S. fans know so much about him already, and plenty believe he should be a larger part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plan with the national team. But for whatever reason, chemistry issues most likely, he sometimes has trouble assimilating. Presumably, Feilhaber understands that fresh chances won’t keep coming forever.

Bottom line: Vermes’ team took a little step back with Espinoza’s move to Wigan and Kamara’s loan to Norwich City (which could easily become an outright  purchase given his early success with the Canaries). But Bieler and Feilhaber are the equalizers in terms of maintaining the collective level of talent at Sporting Park. The Eastern Conference champs could defend their title if the finishing improves. It’s really that simple.

(MORE: full roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Ronaldo: “I always believe I am the best”

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You’ve got to appreciate the over-sized ego of Cristiano Ronaldo, even if it is deserved.

The 33-year-old Real Madrid striker was bestowed the 2017 Player of the Year award from the Portugal FA, earning 65 percent of the vote. But more than winning yet another trophy to add to his burgeoning case was what he told the media after accepting the award.

“We have to defend what is ours because there is always a Portuguese in the fight (for the top awards),” Ronaldo said, via AS. “I always believe and say that I am the best, whatever they say, and then I show it in the field. We are in the fight year after year.”

Ronaldo did score 42 goals last year for Real Madrid and has scored 18 goals in 2018 alone already for Los Blancos as the club look to go back-to-back-to-back in the UEFA Champions League.

Miazga: “We’re all ready to make an impression” with USMNT

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Last October, for reasons unknown, Matt Miazga didn’t make the U.S. Men’s National Team squad for its final two World Cup qualifiers.

Five months later, he’s risen to the top of the centerback depth chart.

[MORE: Digging into the USMNT roster]

The hulking centerback spoke on Tuesday as the USMNT started off its training camp in Cary, N.C., noting that the youth-laden squad wanted to make an impression to stay in the picture moving forward. With four years until the next World Cup and still more than a year until competitive matches, there is still plenty of shuffling and expanding of the player pool to do before then.

Have a listen to Miazga and enjoy the sights and sounds of the USMNT training camp ahead of its friendly match against Paraguay.


Banker Gaetano Micciche elected Serie A president

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MILAN (AP) Bank boss Gaetano Micciche has been elected president of Serie A.

Micciche, the president of Banca IMI, was chosen unanimously on Monday by the Italian league’s 20 clubs.

He succeeds Maurizio Beretta, who left the position nearly a year ago.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

The league has been under emergency leadership, first by former Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio then by Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago.

Malago recommended Micciche for the position.

The federation remains under emergency leadership following Tavecchio’s resignation in the wake of Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup.

Report: Liverpool to resist all offers for Salah

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Liverpool has a message for any club looking to sign Mohamed Salah this summer: Not gonna happen.

The Merseyside club has reportedly said it will “not sell Salah under any circumstances this summer” as the Reds look to hold off the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, according to The Telegraph. Salah’s four-goal tally against Watford on Saturday took his goal total to an incredible 28 in 32 Premier League games, with another seven goals in cup competitions.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Liverpool famously kept Barcelona – and Arsenal – off Luis Suarez after the Uruguayan striker wanted to leave in 2013, but Liverpool was only able to stop Barcelona from signing Philippe Coutinho for six months.

As things stand, Liverpool are qualified for the 2018-2019 UEFA Champions League with the club sitting in a top four Premier League place, and keeping Salah is absolutely vital if the Reds want to make a deep run in the competition and compete for a Premier League title. It remains to be seen though if Salah is happy to stay at Liverpool or if a big-money offer from Spain or France can tempt him otherwise to set himself and his family financially for life.