Sporting Kansas City's defense going into 2014 was their most consistent and familiar line. It was a back line that played a large part in their success the previous three years and looked to be another big part of their 2014 focus.
Only a year later, the back line has gone through an overhaul that has changed the depth and a couple starters with it. Injuries in 2014 changed the course of the back line and Sporting KC goes into 2015 with a lot of questions.
Changing it up
Who is out?
Aurelien Collin- Traded to Orlando City SC
Lawrence Olum- Released on a free transfer
Igor Juliao- Loan expired
Who is in?
Amadou Dia- Drafted in the first round of 2015 MLS Superdraft
Saad Abdul-Salaam- Drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLS Superdraft
Jalil Anibaba- Acquired in trade with Orlando City
The Defensive Roster
The Sporting Kansas City captain and anchor of the Sporting KC back line will be back after an up and down year in 2014. After the World Cup, where he played well enough to earn looks from teams in England and Germany, he was rewarded with a Designated Player contract. As the season wore on, however, Besler and the defense as a whole started to falter from exhaustion and lack of spot starters due to injuries. Besler should come back rested and ready to anchor the back line once again, as well as play a part in the United States' efforts to win the 2015 Gold Cup.
One of the possible replacements for Aurelien Collin, Opara spent most of 2014 out with a chondral defect in his ankle. Prior to the injury, he served as a quality backup centerback and could be a productive member of the starting XI. He doesn't have the recklessness of Collin and is a better ball handler than Olum, which would make him a good partner for Besler in the center. His recovery from injury, which hasn't seemed to give him many problems in the preseason, will be a huge part in how he plays in 2015.
Myers, like Opara, spent the majority of 2014 out with an injury after he tore his Achilles in May. Myers did not see any minutes during the 2015 preseason and it does not seem likely that he will be available for the March 8 opener against New York Red Bulls. When he does return, there will remain a question of whether he can return to the right back he was before he injury and a lot of his success could depend on if he is able to fully move past the injury.
Seth Sinovic was a workhorse for Sporting Kansas City last year, logging the most minutes of anyone on the club and winning the team's Defender of the Year award. For a back line that had so much fluctuation, Sinovic was refreshingly consistent at left back. This year, with the addition of Marcel de Jong, Sinovic's role is unknown. Whether he will continue to be the starter, where he has been consistently decent over the past couple of years, or as a bench player has yet to be decided.
Ellis spent time at both Sporting Kansas City and Oklahoma City Energy FC in 2014 and was able to slide in as depth in a variety of defensive positions. His role will likely be to serve as depth and a spot starter when needed as he can provide serviceable performances when needed.
Palmer-Brown is the 17-year-old prodigy who had a cup of coffee in MLS last season, making an emergency start in May and earned a couple more starts after that when the defender depth chart collapsed. His season ended with a stress fracture in his foot in September but he is now back to full form. His development will continue throughout 2015 and he could see some minutes in early US Open Cup matches.
Anibaba was acquired as the player to be named later from Orlando City in the Aurelien Collin trade and is another candidate for starting centerback next to Besler. He was a starter in his time at Chicago and at points in his tenure in Seattle. He struggled a bit in 2014 with the Sounders but could serve as an adequate spot starter if he is behind Opara on the depth chart. He also can play right back, so he could earn some early starter minutes with Myers still out.
Marcel de Jong
Sporting KC's latest signing has quite the pedigree. The Dutch-Canadian international has represented Canada for the past eight years and was part of the squad that led FC Augsburg to the Bundesliga for the first time in club history. Now he is with Sporting KC and was signed at the end of the preseason. He was in the lineup with the apparent first team as the starting left back so there's a possibility he could usurp Sinovic as the starter on the left side.
Abdul-Salaam is a multi-positional back out of Akron that will make his MLS debut in 2015. He is a work-in-progress and is a good candidate to be loaned out to Oklahoma City Energy FC, while providing some emergency depth. He didn't stick out in the preseason but was good enough to earn a contract and will be a nice option to have down the road.
Dia is similar to Abdul-Salaam in that they were both first round picks in the 2015 MLS Superdraft but Dia has seemingly gained some attention. He played right back with the first team in a couple of preseason matches and was decent. He could very well end up with OKC Energy FC in 2015, but there's also the possibility Vermes liked what he saw in the preseason and decides to keep him as depth on the first team roster.
Check out the first part of our season preview, the goalkeepers. Sporting KC's season opens March 8 against New York Red Bulls.