Obviously, there will be some movement going on with the club (we know that Sporting will announce a January signing, as well as another signing in the near future, also have to include the MLS SuperDraft), but none the less, here's a look at the current roster highlighted by positions that either need to be filled, or where the club could use some quality depth.
My initial assessment of the club's current roster? Starting XI wise the club is in very good position, with only a couple of question marks; Who will play alongside Graham Zusi in the midfield, and who takes over the left back spot that Seth Sinovic held down for much of 2011?
Other than those two potential holes, Sporting Kansas City's starting XI appears to be relatively set in stone (besides the ever going Teal/CJ debate, which is actually a good problem to have).
Depth? Well, that may be another story.
Question Marks in the Starting XI
Midfield- Graham Zusi and Julio Cesar are set in KC's midfield. Zusi had a break out year in 2011, becoming one of the league's best set piece takers and long distance shooters. He also became the squad's engine for much of the season. The motto for many of the matches this year was; as Zusi goes, Sporting KC goes. If Zusi was having an off game, the offense didn't seem to click nearly as well. When he was on, Sporting KC were one of the best attacking sides in MLS.
Julio Cesar had a slow start to his Major League Soccer career, but once he regained his bearings adapting to the league's style of play, and especially when Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes started playing Cesar in the holding midfielder role, he was excellent.
Which means there's one spot in Vermes' 3 man midfield that is essentially up for grabs. Some would say team captain Davy Arnaud is a shoo in for that last spot, but I'm not completely sold on the idea. I wrote a piece a while back about how I think the club is starting to transition away from the Arnaud era. That's not saying that Davy won't play an important role for the club in 2012, just that perhaps his role will be reduced quite a bit from what we've become accustomed to during his time in KC.
I also feel that the club could upgrade at this last midfielder slot. Yes, Davy brings a number of great intangibles when he's on the field, but ultimately the club has an opportunity to bring in someone that is much more of a creator than Arnaud. Basically, they can bring in a player that Jeferson was supposed to be when Sporting KC brought him in during the summer. A true number 10. A facilitator, and play maker.
Zusi did a lot of that work for the club in 2011, but I don't think you can rely on him to be the lone facilitator if the team wants to consistently be a great offensive squad. The idea of signing a player with Jeferson's qualities was a good one from Vermes, but for one reason or another (injuries, MLS style of play) Jeferson was never able to make the impact Vermes was hoping for.
My thoughts on the third midfielder slot is that the January signing Sporting KC CEO Robb Heineman has tweeted about will most likely be an attacking midfielder to team up with Zusi. Andrew Wiebe of MLSsoccer.com was told by a source within the club that the DP is an attacking player of some sort. With Teal Bunbury, and CJ Sapong vying for time at the center forward position, and with Omar Bravo, and Kei Kamara holding down the wings, central attacking mid seems to make the most sense, especially given the fact that the club would be paying a DP a nice chunk of change. You wouldn't pay that kind of money for a player that might play backup to Kamara or Bravo.
It's been a few days now, and I'm still not completely over Seth Sinovic's North American Expedition, but what's done is done, and now that Sinovic is a member of the Montreal Impact, it's time to start figuring out just who exactly is going to man the left side of Sporting KC's defense. The two players most talked about at the present time are Michael Harrington, and Roger Espinoza. Both players have proven that they can play the left back role for the club. Espinoza was solid at that position in the beginning of the 2011 campaign, and with Cesar now appearing to have the holding midfielder role on lock, Roger makes some sense at left back.
One of the good points Andy Edwards of the Talkin' Touches podcast made about why he thought Montreal would select Harrington in the draft was Harrington's versatility, as he can play both fullback positions, so Michael is definitely in play to man the left side of Sporting KC's defense. The only real question with Harrington is consistency.
And although I tend to think the new non DP player Heineman tweeted about yesterday will be a winger (more on this later), I wouldn't be surprised if the new player ends up being a left back. It may not be, but I think it makes some sense.
So, for the most part Sporting KC's Starting XI is good to go, but what about the team's depth? Besides a couple of positions (center forward, goalkeeper) I think the club could improve the quality of depth on the squad.
The biggest need for more quality depth in my opinion is on the wings. Bravo and Kamara are entrenched as the starters, but behind them the team doesn't have many reliable options. We saw this play out during the playoffs when Bravo was suffering from a quad injury and Vermes was forced to start CJ Sapong on the left side of Sporting's attack. And although I thought Sapong did a solid job playing the left side in a pinch, he wasn't near as of effective as he is playing his normal position.
Behind Kamara and Bravo, where is the actual winger depth for Sporting? Which is why I tend to think that the non DP signing Heineman has tweeted about will probably be a forward that plays out on the wings. Kamara and Bravo are very good starters for the club, but they can't play all of the time, and Sporting can't afford to get bitten in the butt in case one of the two goes down with injury.
Another potential depth move could be at the center back position. Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin have been rock solid this season, but behind them there are question marks, and a group of unproven players. Do we really know what we have with Lawrence Olum, or Daneil Cyrus? Olum and Cyrus may end up being all that Sporting needs, but at this point, we haven't seen enough of either one in first team action to really know.
Of course, Peter Vermes watches them train everyday, so he probably already knows if Olum and Cyrus are capable of providing quality depth at that position.
One last question about Sporting's center back depth- Do we really want to live in a world where Shavar Thomas actually plays meaningful minutes for Sporting Kansas City ever again?