From Cup Winners to Wild Card Losers: The Fall of Sporting KC

A season that ended too soon for Sporting KC allows team to look ahead to 2015 season
by Katherine Rupp   |   Thursday, November 06, 2014

State of SKC - column on Sporting KC (SKC) & the Kansas City soccer scene.

What could go wrong? Sporting Kansas City had the title of current MLS champions, a plethora of talented players including a solid mix of veteran MLSers as well as new, up-and-coming players to MLS looking to make their mark.

However, quite a bit went – wrong may be the incorrect word here – not the way that was planned for the following season after winning the MLS Cup. Yet, many things went well, and if they didn’t go well, there were glimpses in the 2014 season of what was yet to come.

Captain Matt Besler and fellow fan favorite Graham Zusi were deployed to Brazil on the US men’s national team for this year’s World Cup. After the most amount of traveling than any other team, the US men went back to their respective club teams, of which Zusi and Besler arrived in Kansas City with little rest and weary legs. Some may say that the pair did not take enough time off, others say that even if it was the Sporting KC duo’s first World Cup, they should have continued playing through the pain. Other – possibly more credulous – people believe they should have just performed better, regardless of if it was the first World Cup and lots of travel or not.

By having Zusi and Besler, two of the team’s talisman, on a downtrend for the second part of the season, the team had to rely on other seasoned vets like Benny Feilhaber and Seth Sinovic. Additionally, the team was not helped through multiple season-ending or lengthy injuries that in turn injured the team’s march to a strong post-season. Three specific players that were missed because of injury included Chance Myers, Ike Opara, and Paulo Nagamura. Because of an ankle injury, the Brazilian was out of commission from July 12th and finally came back to start on September 6th.

Although the whole in the midfield was somewhat disoriented when defensive midfielder Roger Espinoza left for Wigan, and then also when Uri Rosell departed for Sporting Lisbon, Paulo Nagamura took over for those duties, and when he was indisposed, that omission on the field was ever so present. Also a missing presence on the pitch was defender Ike Opara. The former Wake Forest player produced some good quality numbers last season, especially nearing the end of the regular season and during the MLS Cup winning run. And even though Opara only played 152 minutes in the 2014 season, his presence was needed, at least for substitution purposes and more depth on the field and off. And lastly, and maybe the most noticed injured player, was Chance Myers.

Although Igor Juliao filled in quite respectively for the right fullback, the defense was not the same as the MLS Cup winning quad pairing of Sinovic, Besler, Collin, and Myers. With the luck that Sporting Kansas City had this season, of course Myers was injured in late May with his season-ending injury coming during a draw against Toronto.

On the other side of things, there are good aspects of an early dismissal from the 2014 MLS post-season that Sporting Kansas City can take and work around, but also moments and lessons from which to learn. One is that once a teammate is on, they’re on. Take Dom Dwyer, for instance. Once he had a great scoring rate for the year, his haul was impressive by the end. Continuing to include Dwyer in the starting eleven, or even in the role as a super sub, for next year should be high on the list for coach Peter Vermes and company. Also, homegrown player Kevin Ellis broke through this season and continued to impress the more and more he played.

With the new 2014 offseason now comes time to regroup, refresh,and reinvigorate the team after a lackluster showing in the MLS post-season. Taking into account the pros and cons of this season’s team and the needs for further seasons will no doubt be taken into consideration when the offseason moves come in waves like the Expansion Draft (as Orlando City SC and NYCFC come into MLS), the Dispersal Draft (as Chivas USA has disbanded), and the MLS SuperDraft, among other important things for Sporting Kansas City. So although the 2014 season ended before the team wanted it to, there are plenty of things to do, good aspects to keep, and areas with which to improve upon before setting eyes on the 2015 season.

NEXT UP: January 31 – Friendly: Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers, Kino North Stadium, Tucson, Arizona. 8 p.m. EST.

Katherine RUPP

Drake University
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Unabashed Minnesotan by birth. Tried reliving the glory days of collegiate intramural soccer championships but an ACL tear dashed future hopes of adult recreational greatness. Covering a city’s team that’s too big for one state: SKC.