After 18 matches in 2015, Sporting Kansas City is in a good position. With the highest points per game in the league and
What is your approval or disapproval of Sporting KC's performance so far?
Jough - Whenever I think of reasons to be skeptical or critical of a Sporting performance of their results to date I have to pull back and remember that, for all the injuries and call-ups the team has had in the last 18 months, most MLS fans would love to turn in the kind of results Kansas City earns. After winning two trophies in two years I've been spoiled with expectations. As of right now (7/14) Sporting leads the league in points per game (1.76 ppg), goal differential (+9), and fewest losses (just 3), and have not lost a home game in this season. In fact, counting USOC games, they're riding a seven game winning streak at home. During that streak, they've outscored their opponents 19 to 4. That's insane.
Cody - The team gets a big thumbs up so far. This team needed some time at the beginning of the season to find itself with several new players and injuries. But once Mustivar came in at holding mid, Melia replaced Marin in goal, and everyone got acclimated; Sporting KC found their stride. The fact that Peter has needed the rookies so heavily, and Kevin Ellis has become the everyday starting CB, and an MLS pool keeper is now the starter is quite amazing when you look at where the team stands right now. Highest PPG in MLS.... how could you not approve? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?
Grace - I have absolutely no problem calling Sporting KC the best team in MLS at this point in the season. The team has adapted well to the challenges this season put forth - Ike Opara's continuous injury, Luis Marin's failure to live up to high expectations, fairly consistent national team call-ups and I'll even throw in an old issue - the loss of Uri Rosell. Since he went to Portugal, there hasn't been a true distributor for Kansas City - until Soni Mustivar started playing. Kevin Ellis is playing some of the best soccer of his life, Tim Melia proved that he deserved his promotion and the rookies have stepped up big time. If what's going on now is a trend, Sporting KC has a real shot at another MLS Cup.
Ben - After the way last season finished, plus the high amount of roster turnover and the move to the tougher conference, I saw them as a team that would make the playoffs but probably wouldn't be a big contender this season for the Supporters Shield. Plus, if you told me at the beginning that by the end of May, Ike Opara would be out for the year and Tim Melia would be starting in goal, I'd be cautious whether to call them a playoff team. Suffice to say, this team has absolutely exceeded my expectations. Benny Feilhaber has been outstanding, Soni Mustivar has been solid as of late, Tim Melia has been more than a pleasant surprise and Krisztian Nemeth has been what I dreamed he could be for this team. Lots of credit has to go to Peter Vermes for reinvigorating this squad and putting them in great position in 2015, and for the future as well.
Thad - I approve. To be in such a good position, best Points Per Game, within striking distance of first in the west, Open Cup run still going and all while still dealing with injuries that rival last year is pretty amazing and fun to watch.
Who is your midseason MVP?
Jough - Benny Feilhaber, though I have to admit Giovinco is making a compelling case.
Cody - Benny Feilhaber.
Grace - Definitely Benny Feilhaber.
James - Giovinco, the case for Feilhaber is strong but Giovinco is getting it done in an inferior team and that give him a slight edge for me.
Ben - No question, it's Benny Feilhaber. Already career highs in assists and goals in a year where he started as a holding and defensive midfielder. He's been on another plane this season.
Thad - Sporting KC's MVP? Benny. No doubt. MLS MVP? Could be Benny or some Italian guy up north maybe. I know it is not Lampard.
Biggest surprise of the season?
Jough - Honestly, for me it was the failure of Marin and the emergence of Tim Melia. I honestly had no idea who this guy was, and maybe even though Marin got a bit of unfair criticism, but man, Tim has made me a believer. He's a keeper.
Cody - Has to be Tim Melia. It is a surprise the guy is even playing! Marin was going to be the next Jimmy Nielsen. When he was signed, I honestly figured that whenever SKC needed a backup keeper, they would just call up Kempin. After the career Melia has had, nobody saw anything close to all of this success happening.
Grace - Krisztian Nemeth has been a complete surprise for me. When everyone said that Sporting Kansas City needed a winger, I expected Peter Vermes and co. to find another player that was a lot like Kei Kamara, Jacob Peterson, etc. A decent player who is fairly consistent, but hardly finishes. Instead, they found a clinical finisher. With 7 goals as of 7/19, he's beating both Dom Dwyer and Benny Feilhaber (both at 6) for the team's golden boot.
Ben - So many good candidates for this one, including Nemeth, Mustivar and even Benny Feilhaber's fantastic season, but for me Melia absolutely takes the cake. I was so full of hope with Marin, given his history and pedigree and loved the way he attacked the ball in the opening match, but then it all fell apart after that. Melia came in with little expectation and has been absolutely phenomenal. His presence in the air is better than any keeper we've seen since before Jimmy Nielsen and his stats are impressive. He has a .60 goals against average (would be best in franchise history if it holds up) and a 77% save percentage, which only 2000 Tony Meola would best. While he hasn't had the full season, he's been very impressive so far in pretty much all respects.
Thad - Lots of options for this. The Marin/Melia story, Mustivar arising as the D-mid to make us forget Uri, the draft class all starting at some point and contributing significant minutes or even Kevin Ellis again stepping in to the center back role. I will say the Marin/Melia combined story. High expectations for Marin, handpicked by Jimmy Nielsen, experienced and ready to be the best keeper in MLS. Only to be replaced by a journeyman keeper who has made almost no mistakes since getting a start.
Is this team a Supporters Shield/MLS Cup contender?
Jough - I don't want to jinx anything, so I'll just link to SCS's predictions for the SS and MLS Cup winner for this year.
Gotta like those odds...
Cody - Yes. I said a month ago that the Supporters' Shield was probably out of KC's reach, but that is not the case anymore. Highest points per game has to make them a favorite at this point! I kept thinking the back line wasn't going to be able to hold, but Kevin Ellis and everyone else continue to step up. With Robb talking about having a surplus and wanting to spend some money, this team should only get better. If not the Shield, there is no reason to think KC can't make a run in the playoffs at the Cup. This is going to be a really fun second half!
Grace - Absolutely. At this point, it's a matter of finishing what the team has started - and Sporting KC's offense has proven they can take care of that.
Ben - This may end up being a perfect storm for Sporting KC this summer. They have the highest points per game in the league and are two points out of the Supporters Shield lead with a few games in hand against every opponent near them. While they will have US Open Cup fixture congestion to deal with, other Shield contenders such as DC United, Vancouver Whitecaps, Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC all have the CONCACAF Champions League which will add four games in September and October down the stretch, whereas Sporting KC will have a lighter homestretch. They have the talent and the scheduling just may benefit them in a big way.
Thad - Yes. But only if the injuries stay away.
What is the biggest obstacle for Sporting KC in the second half of the season?
Jough - Is it cliche to say injuries? With this team it feels like it, but as temperatures rise, Sporting's physical style will require that they stay "Sporting Fit"TM
Cody - While I don't think it is all THAT big of an obstacle, keeping this defensive form for the rest of the season will be difficult. And by that form, I mean 5 shutouts in 6 games. That is going to be basically impossible to continue all season. Height is an issue on the back line and they do exposed a few times a game.
Grace - Don't fall into a pattern. Give guys besides Nemeth, Dwyer and Feilhaber a chance to score. (Does anyone remember Espinoza's goal away against Dallas?) Keep in mind that every point is an important point, and if the best way to earn that point is by trying something unconventional, give it a shot. If it doesn't work, change at halftime. Just don't get lazy.
Ben - When looking at the readjusted goals and potentials of this team, the biggest obstacle has to be looked at in a way of what is standing in their way of winning silverware, and to me that is the Los Angeles Galaxy. They already had a strong team, maybe the best in the league, before adding Steven Gerrard and Giovanni Dos Santos. They deserve all the hype they are getting and Sporting needs to look at them as public enemy number one. The Oct. 25 season finale with Los Angeles coming to Sporting Park could very well be the biggest game of the season.
Thad - Repeat. Stay Healthy! Sporting KC is one Besler hamstring away from being a sieve in the back.