21 February 2012

Disney preview: Sporting KC

The 2012 Disney Pro Soccer Classic starts on Friday, signaling the final countdown to the MLS season. I’ll be calling games at the tournament for the third straight year, teaming up with Simon Borg as part of MLSsoccer.com’s coverage of the group stage and then working the final day of the tournament on the ESPN3 broadcasts. As the week goes on, I’ll preview each of the eight teams set to participate in Orlando.

The tournament starts on Friday, and Simon and I will call the second game of the doubleheader. The first game, called by the Kansas City duo of Callum Williams and Jake Yadrich, is a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference final. My fourth preview takes a look at Kansas City.

Disney Pro Soccer Classic
Team Previews

The basics
Team: Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
Head Coach: Peter Vermes (3rd season)

2011 results: 13-9-12, 1st place, Eastern Conference
Playoffs: beat Colorado 4-0 aggregate, lost to Houston 2-0

Returning Starters: DF Matt Besler, FW Teal Bunbury, DF Aurelien Collin, MF Julio Cesar, MF Roger Espinoza, FW Kei Kamara, GK Jimmy Nielsen, DF Chance Myers, FW C.J. Sapong, DF Seth Sinovic, MF Graham Zusi
Key Newcomers: FW Bobby Convey, FW Dom Dwyer, MF Jacob Peterson

I’m looking forward to watching …
C.J. Sapong. It’s hard not to root for C.J. Sapong. Especially if you've seen his Hope Solo rap. But when Kansas City picked him with the 10th selection in the 2011 draft, I was among those who thought it was a bit of a reach for a talented player, but one lacking the ability to make an impact right away. Wrong! Sapong had a great rookie season, with five goals and five assists in 22 league starts as part of Kansas City’s ultra-athletic attacking corps. He added goals in the playoffs and the Open Cup in an impressive season. Sapong misses the Olympic age cutoff by a mere four days, so he’ll be the only returning starter at forward in Orlando, with Kei Kamara playing for Sierra Leone and Teal Bunbury with the U-23s. I can’t wait to see his progression in Year 2. Maybe he'll even smile for his mugshot!

Most important player …
Graham Zusi. Sporting’s midfield doesn’t have the flash of its front line. Almost fittingly, its midfield leader came out of nowhere in 2011, as Zusi went from a third-year nobody with nine career starts to a national-team call-up. He cooled off a bit after posting two goals and three assists in June, with three goals and four assists in his final 19 games. With his reputation enhanced, opposing teams will be gunning for Zusi in 2012, so the 25-year-old will have to step up his game as the main offensive creator in a midfield that includes ball-winners Roger Espinoza and Julio Cesar.

Under the radar …
Bobby Convey. Rarely does a 28-year-old with almost 50 national-team caps get dealt in a quiet trade, but Convey found himself dealt from San Jose to Kansas City without a lot of fanfare in December. Comeback Player of the Year with 10 assists in 2010, punctuated by a virtuoso playoff performance, Convey found himself unhappily playing defense last year. In Kansas City, he has lined up as a left wing, but playing that preferred position could mean less playing time in Sporting’s stacked offensive lineup. With no true left midfielder in KC’s 4-3-3 formation, it will be very interesting to see where Kansas City (and Convey) decide he should play.

On trial …
With a stacked roster returning, Kansas City doesn’t have much in the way of roster space. If rookie defender Cyprian Hedrick signs, just one spot will remain, with defenders Stefan Antonijevic and Shawn Singh, midfielder Kyle Miller, and goalkeepers Scott Angevine and Steve Spangler all still in camp. We should see some of Kansas City’s deep bench, however, with at least Bunbury (U.S. U-23) and Kamara (Sierra Leone) on national team duty.

Friday, February 24, 5 p.m. CT, Sporting vs. Houston Dynamo
(MLSsoccer.com – Williams / Yadrich)
Sunday, February 26, 2 p.m. CT, Sporting vs. Montreal Impact
(MLSsoccer.com – Williams / Yadrich)
Wednesday, February 29, 5 p.m. CT, Sporting vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
(MLSsoccer.com – Williams / Yadrich)
MLS Opener: Saturday, March 10, 6:30 p.m. CT, Sporting at D.C. United
(RFK Stadium)
MLS Home Opener: Saturday, March 17, 7:30 p.m. CT, Sporting vs. N.E. Revolution
(LIVESTRONG Sporting Park)

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