2013 Sporting KC Preview: A Great Team Gets Even Better, Or Does It?

Al Messerschmidt

It's Monday, February 25, 2013, and that means just one thing for Sporting KC fans -- at long last, it's game week. Today, The Daily Wiz begins its week's worth of season previews and coverage of Saturday's season opener against Philadelphia.

Last year's record: 18-7-9 (1st place, Eastern Conference regular season; lost in conference semifinals to Houston Dynamo, 2-1), U.S. Open Cup champions

Sporting Kansas City were the league's hottest team to start in 2012 (7-0-0), but up-and-down results through the spring and summer months brought them back to the pack, and kept them from clinching the East's first-seed in the playoffs until their final regular season game.

As was the case in 2011, last year ending on the field at Sporting Park (no longer LIVESTRONG Sporting Park), following an aggregate defeat to the Dynamo, this time 2-1.

Key additions: Midfielder Benny Feilhaber (acquired from New England Revolution, via trade), forward Claudio Bieler (purchased from LDU Quito, signed as Designated Player), defender Ike Opara (acquired from San Jose Earthquakes, via trade), midfielder Mikey Lopez (drafted No. 14 overall in 2013 MLS SuperDraft)

Bieler, 28, was signed from Ecuador in December for an undisclosed transfer fee, and will be Sporting KC's lone Designated Player entering the 2013 season. Bieler scored 57 goals in 110 games for LDU Quito.

Sporting KC sent a hefty chunk of allocation money and two draft picks to New England in order to acquire Feilhaber. The 28-year old was a disappointment for the Revolution last year when he accounted for 1 goal and 2 assists, but was a rare bright spot for the Revs in 2011 when he netted 4 goals and assisted on 7 more.

Opara arrived for the small price of a 2013 second-round draft pick from last year's Supporters Shield winners. The 24-year old was drafted third overall, just one selection before Sporting KC selected Teal Bunbury in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Opara appeared in 35 games, 22 of which were starts, during his three seasons with the Earthquakes.

Lopez, currently competing with the U.S. Under-20 national team for the CONCACAF Championship, fell to Sporting KC at pick number 14 in the first round, which was a huge surprise to Vermes and his staff.

Key losses: Midfielder Roger Espinoza (contract expired, signed for Wigan Athletic), forward Kei Kamara (loaned to Norwich City until May 6, subject to permanent transfer), midfielder Julio Cesar (contract expired, signed for Toronto FC)

Projected starting lineup: Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Oriol Rosell, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber; Graham Zusi, Claudio Bieler, Bobby Convey

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Optimistic prediction: Supporters Shield winners, U.S. Open Cup winners, CONCACAF Champions League group winners, MLS Cup winners

This is a squad of players capable of competing in and winning each of these competitions individually, but maybe the whole of them as a group is a bit ambitious. Regardless, Sporting KC are in MLS' rare "a trophy a year" territory.

Pessimistic prediction: Fifth-place, Eastern Conference; out quarterfinal round, U.S. Open Cup; last-place, CONCACAF Champions League group

Competing in so many competitions certainly gives multiple opportunities to win a trophy in a given year, but it also weighs heavily on a squad of players who will see increased games and minutes in 2013. Peter Vermes will have to pick and choose this season, and could sacrifice a few league points in favor of the Cup competitions, but even then, Sporting KC are a playoff team you won't want to face once November rolls around.

The storylines: can the defense back up its league-fewest 25 goals conceded in 2012 with a similar performance; where can the attack find enough extra goals to reach the 50-goal benchmark; how will Peter Vermes balance having a third competition - CONCACAF Champions League - in late summer and early fall; will U.S. national team call-ups for the Gold Cup in June stretch the squad too thin?

Now, how much closer did that get you to 3 p.m., Saturday?

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