The first of a three-part series.
In a post that's been atop my priorities list for a couple of weeks now, it just so happens to be extremely convenient for myself that Sporting Kansas City midfielder and captain Davy Arnaud proclaimed on Tuesday that Sporting KC have the potential to reach the MLS Cup final. By setting such lofty goals for his club, Arnaud did me two favors: he makes me look slightly less a homer for preparing to say the pretty much the same thing, and help to create a more provocative title for this post.
The 2010 version of the Kansas City Wizards were slightly (see: majorly) flawed in one facet of the game of soccer: they couldn't score goals when they defended well, and they couldn't defend well when they managed to score. Thus, they flailed helplessly on the ground for the first half to the 2010 season and dug themselves such a great hole, that when they found their second half stride, they were already in too deep to recover enough points to make the playoffs.
Missing the playoffs in 2011, though? Unacceptable.
So, right here, right now, I will officially state that, on my name and with whatever weight that carries, this team will be in the 2011 MLS Cup playoffs, and will be contending for the big, brilliant trophy given to the eventual champion.
Now, of course I wouldn't say such a thing without reasoning to back it up. For the first of three big reasons I believe our beloved SKC have hardware potential in 2011, hit the jump, and I think you'll agree with what I'm saying, if you're not already...
The Talent And Depth Level In KC Has Risen Ten-Fold
This is something that's rather obvious, and something I'm not going to spend a ton of time on. It's rather interesting to look back at the roster entering the 2010 season and forward to the roster at present time. (Much like it was last year to look back to 2009 and the massive overhaul from that abomination of a season.)
While the roster hasn't been quite the revolving door this offseason as was the case last year, there have been a considerable number of roster moves made in an effort to improve not only the talent of the players on the roster, but (and this is what hurt the team most in 2010) also to add talented depth. You can't really argue that there wasn't talent in Kansas City in 2010, because there was. Where the team lacked was in the dropoff of talent between the starters and the second corps of players on the roster.
Quickly, we will look at the 2010 opening day roster against D.C. United and how the gameday eighteen has evolved since then.
Of the starters, Jimmy Conrad and Josh Wolff are no longer with the team. Also, then-starters Matt Besler and Jack Jewsbury lost their starting places during the 2010 season, though you could make a legitimate argument for either player to regain their spot at present time. The other seven starters all figure compete heavily to begin 2011 on the field.
Where the turnover is most eveident, though, is where I mentioned the greatest need for improvement - depth, the gameday bench. 4 of the 7 bench players for the game against D.C. last year - Pablo Escobar, Jonahtan Leathers, Santiago Hirsig and Zoltan Hercegfalvi - are gone. Four players that either didn't cut it in the league, suffered serious injury or were languishing on the bench behind deeply rooted starters. Another player on the bench that day - forward Teal Bunbury - is now among a group of five or so players vying for the three starting forward spots. The other two - goalkeeper Eric Kronberg and Korede Aiyegbusi - both figure to hold down their respective substitute places and compete in the reserve league in 2011.
That's 6/18 players no longer with the team, two more that have already been bucked from starting spots and anywhere from 2 to 4 more that could relegated to the bench. It would not nearly suffice to say that the amount of competition is way up, but more importantly, the level of competition is way up, too.
Next up, we'll discuss a reason which is something much more topical league-wide, that I believe plays right into SKC's hands.