In 2013 the most debated topic was who should be playing center forward in Peter Vermes' signature 4-3-3 system. There was a camp screaming for Claudio Bieler to play more while there was another side wanting Dom Dwyer to start. Even through the MLS Cup, this debate raged on. Both players ended up being productive, scoring the eventual game-winning playoff goals in the Eastern Conference semifinals and the finals.
These reviews and grades will be based on a couple of different criteria. They will obviously be judged on overall performance but that performance will be taken into context of their expectations. Those who exceeded expectations will receive higher grades and vice versa.
Last December the signing of Claudio Bieler was the talk of the town as he was signed to a Designated Player contract and it seemed like Sporting KC had solved their finishing problems from 2012. Needless to say, Bieler came in with some extremely high expectations with many people believing he would score 15+ goals in 2013. He started off the season extremely well, scoring four goals in his first six games. He had two good finishes against Philadelphia and Toronto respectively and then scored the game-winner against DC United in the dying moments. Things were looking up for Bieler but as the season wore on his production started to wane. Between July 1st and the Eastern Conference seminal second leg, Bieler only had two goals and only one from the run of play. To be fair, he was battling an injury during that time but he could never replicate the success he had in the first half of the season.
In the second half of the season he became a super-sub, bringing in a different style of play than Dom Dwyer. In this role he was moderately successful in confusing defenses but his only goal came in that second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal. His expectations for this season were really high and his second half did not come close to those expectations. It also didn't help that Kei Kamara's return took away some goal-scoring opportunities from him and that the style of play that Sporting moved to in the second half did not mix well with his style. He needed good service through the middle, yet Sporting continued to use an offense of crosses. Regardless, his second half was a bit of a letdown. However, since his first half was very good, he maintains a decent grade.
Coming into this season Dwyer had virtually no expectations. The starting center forward job was Bieler's and that was all to be said about it. However, once the USL-Pro season started, news started trickling out of Orlando about this guy who was scoring goals left and right. Eventually he set the record for goals scored in the league and rightfully earned a callup to the main roster. When Bieler went down with an injury, Dwyer stepped in well. He found out quickly that he was not going to be able to score at the rate he did in Orlando but he was still a force to be reckoned with up top. He became competition for Bieler, which became evident when he received the start in all five of Sporting KC's postseason matches.
His goal against Houston in the Eastern Conference final really sticks out to me because it shows how good he became over the course of the year. After receiving the beautiful pass from Benny Feilhaber, his quick juke to get a clear shot showed how well he adjusted to the league. After coming in with few expectations and excelling at his position, he gets a high grade.
There isn't too much to say about Teal Bunbury given that he only had half of the season to play after he returned from an ACL injury he obtained last August. He was the odd man out in this group, moved to the bench by the forces of Bieler and Dwyer in the lineup. In the action he did get, which was only 214 league minutes, he was a speedy threat up top but never capitalized on it. He did not have a goal in any of the three competitions and only had two shots on goal in MLS play. He was very good in his Champions League matches but once again failed to score.
Bunbury was in a tough situation this year. He was going to be second on the depth chart no matter what and Dwyer's emergence pushed him down to third. All the while he was trying to come back from an ACL tear. He had no expectations this year, yet didn't exceed anything. He, unfortunately, receives the worst grade of the center forwards.