Close or controversial defeats
don't take away from the fact that Sporting KC has taken a step backward since finishing first in the Eastern Conference in 2011 and 2012 and winning MLS Cup in 2013. That's meant Peter Vermes,
the SKC manager, was busy in the offseason shaking up the roster.
Opening day ...
Projected XI -- Melia; Zusi, Opara, Besler, Sinovic; Feilhaber, Mustivar, Espinoza; Gerso, Dwyer, Blessing.
Twelve players have arrived -- Brazilian defender Igor Juliao and Lebanese-American forward Soony Saad for a second time -- and 14 have departed, putting Sporting KC tied with Portland the most offseason moves by an MLS club. Still, on opening day, there could be only two changes in Vermes' starting lineup.
A pair of African wingers -- Latif Blessing from Ghana and Gerso from Guinea-Bissau by way of Portugal -- will hopefully give Sporting KC help on the flanks, where it struggled after Hungarian Krisztian Nemeth bolted in January 2016, moving to Al-Gharafa in the Qatari Super League for a reported $3 million transfer fee. (The irony is that Nemeth reportedly says he wants to return to MLS.)
Getting more offense from Blessing and Gerso is critical in order to take some of the scoring load off Dom Dwyer. He played a career-high 2,823 minutes in 2016 and scored 16 goals, the second highest total in his MLS career and more than twice as many goals as any other player on Sporting KC, but he suffered from bone spurs in his ankle that required surgery in the offseason.
“It was a big issue,” Dwyer said at the start of winter training camp with Sporting KC. “Probably for a year and a half, I've been battling with it. The previous offseason, there wasn't quite time to get it done. This offseason, it just became time. Toward the end of the season, I was really struggling. Unfortunately, we crashed out of the playoffs when we did, and then it was time to get surgery and think about next year. I've had a lot of time to focus and rebuild, and now I'm excited to show what I've got.”
Matt Besler is also coming off ankle surgery to remove bone spurs. The recovery prevented him from attending national team camp in January but he should be back in the lineup and ready to go for the USA in March.
Graham Zusi, converted to right back, and Benny Feilhaber could also with the national team while Dwyer is now eligible for U.S. citizenship. If eligible and healthy, U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena said Dwyer would have been called up to January camp.
Who's in ...
GOALKEEPERS: Andrew Dykstra (D.C. United, Re-Entry Draft), Adrian Zendejas (Swope Park Rangers, USL Signing). DEFENDERS: Igor Juliao (Fluminense/BRA, Loan), Erik Palmer-Brown (Porto/POR, Loan Expired), Colton Storm (Univ. of North Carolina, SuperDraft). MIDFIELDERS: Ilie (Elche/ESP, Free Agent), Tyler Pasher (Swope Park Rangers, USL Signing). FORWARDS: Latif Blessing (Liberty Professionals FC/GHA, Transfer), Gerso Fernandes (Belenenses/POR, Transfer), Cameron Iwasa (Sac Republic FC, USL Signing), Soony Saad (BEC Tero Sasana/THA, Transfer), Daniel Salloi (Gyirmot/HUN, Loan Expired).
Who's out ...
GOALKEEPERS: Alec Kann (Atlanta United, Expansion Draft), Jon Kempin. DEFENDERS: Ever Alvarado (Olimpia/HON, Free Agent), Nuno Andre Coelho (Chaves/POR, Free Agent), Chance Myers (Portland Timbers, MLS Free Agent). MIDFIELDERS: Emmanuel Appiah, Brad Davis (Retired), Benji Joya, Justin Mapp, Paulo Nagamura (Retired), Lawrence Olum (Portland Timbers, Trade), FORWARDS: Connor Hallisey, Jacob Peterson (Atlanta United, MLS Free Agent), Christian Volesky.
First five games ...
March 4 -- at D.C. United
March 11 -- FC Dallas
March 18 -- San Jose Earthquakes
March 31 -- at Toronto FC
April 9 -- Colorado Rapids