Sporting KC's low turnover keys raised expectations for the defending champs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sporting Kansas City haven't made a lot of noise in the offseason, as far as player signings. Then again, with nearly all of their core from last year's MLS Cup-title season coming back, they haven't exactly been under the gun to make wholesale roster changes.
If right back Chance Myers re-ups, and there aren't any significant preseason trades, Sporting will return 10 players – minus retired 'keeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen -- from their XI in last year's championship match against Real Salt Lake. Throw in a contingent of other players who saw significant action in 2013 – including Argentinian DP Claudio Bieler, the team's leading scorer across all competitions – and Sporting have a solid foundation heading into the 2014 campaign.
And with a pair of March dates against Mexico's Cruz Azul looming in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, Sporting need the smoothest possible transition from last season to this one.
“I do like the group that we have,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com last week. “It never means that it's set, by any means. But I also think, with the fact that we are playing the competitions we're in, and how fast we have to get ready for Champions League, we need to have consistency in our group. I think that's an important aspect going forward.”
That consistency also raises expectations on the club, forward Dom Dwyer said, especially with Sporting's 2012 US Open Cup championship starting a two-year silverware run after a seven-year drought.
“Last year it was MLS Cup,” Dwyer told reporters on Friday, shortly before players left for their training camp in Tucson, Ariz. “This year it's got to be MLS Cup and Open Cup and Champions League as well. You've always got to be optimistic, and I really believe we can do all that.”
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But if the expectations are there, midfielder Paulo Nagamura said, so is the pressure from other clubs – some who have made big offseason deals – on the defending champs.
“We've got to keep working hard, be humble and defend what is ours,” said Nagamura, who won the MLS Cup-Open Cup double with the LA Galaxy in 2005. “Every team in the league now is going to want to take what's ours, and we've got to keep strong and doing what we did last year. We know what it takes to be successful.”
And just because Sporting haven't made a splashy deal in defense of their title, Vermes said, doesn't mean one isn't coming: “There's always room for moves to be made.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.