2012 in Review: Q&A with Sporting KC's Kerry Zavagnin
MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 18-7-9 (63 points); 42 GF / 27 GA (+15 GD)
Kerry Zavagnin has been there for all of Sporting Kansas City's successes and weathered some of its toughest moments. As a player, he helped the then-Wizards win MLS Cup and the Supporters' Shield in 2000 and the US Open Cup in 2004. As an assistant to manager Peter Vermes (his teammate on that 2000 squad), he raised this year's Open Cup. And in between, he saw the team go from worrying about its future in Kansas City to becoming a rebranded, established club with a dedicated ownership group, a passionate fanbase and a stadium that has won international awards.
So when Zavagnin offers his perspective on the 2012 season, it comes from a long view. MLSsoccer.com spoke with him by phone to talk about the 2012 season, a flurry of ambitious offseason moves and Sporting's goals for 2013 and beyond.
MLSsoccer.com: What's the team's overall evaluation of this past season?
Zavagnin: I think we improved upon 2011. Obviously, getting into the playoffs, winning the Eastern Conference championship [Editor's note: Houston are Eastern Conference champions by virtue of their playoff victory against D.C. United. Sporting were the East's No. 1 seed after finishing atop the conference table after the regular season.], having the success in the Open Cup that we did. Unfortunately, we fell a little short in the playoffs. But we matured as a team. We're trending upwards at the moment, and if this trend continues, hopefully we'll have more championships next year.
WATCH: Sporting KC season highlights
MLSsoccer.com: So it's definitely a glass-half-full outlook?
Zavagnin: I think so. You always have to be thinking in a positive way, thinking forward and addressing some of the issues that are keeping you from growing. I think that we continued to do those things, both in player personnel and in some of the decisions that we make as a staff. So we're continuing improving in all aspects of our game, and with that, we continue to find more success.
MLSsoccer.com: You were around when Kansas City won two Cups and a Supporters' Shield in five seasons. Is there that same sense now that this team can be a contender every year?
Zavagnin: I think the one thing that we've been able to do is that we've been able to look to today, tomorrow, next year, five years – and, to an extent, 10 years ahead of time. So we're planning for the future while we're addressing today. I think today we have a more stable organization in place. We have an outstanding fanbase. We have an excellent, probably the best, ownership group in the league, and we have a plan. And with that comes sustained success, which is what we're looking for.
MLSsoccer.com: What about the way that the city has embraced the team, especially this past season?
Zavagnin: It's nothing short of remarkable. Obviously, last year with the new stadium opening and the glitz and the glamor of it being probably one of the best stadiums in the world, there's always the fear that that effect will be short-lived. But quite the opposite occurred with our team and our organization. It catapulted the 2013 season into bigger and better things. Between the performance on the field, between the front office and the thing that they've been able to accomplish, and then the fans really turning out and creating a true home-field advantage, it's been an outstanding accomplishment for Kansas City.
MLSsoccer.com: You've talked about the need to augment the team's existing strengths and replace players who are leaving. Have Sporting done that with the acquisitions so far?
WATCH: Claudio Bieler joins SKC as DP
Zavagnin: I think, to this point, we've maximized the possibilities that have become available to us. We've gotten stronger in defense. We've gotten deeper with the addition of Josh Gardner, Yann Songo'o, Ike Opara. Those three guys will certainly add depth, and in some cases compete for a regular spot. Through the midfield, I would say one of the best creative central attacking midfielders in America has been Benny Feilhaber. When you look at Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi, I think Benny Feilhaber should be mentioned in that category. To be able to secure a player like that in our midfield has been outstanding. And then we signed Claudio Bieler, a player we've had our eye on for some time now. It's really coming into place. At this point, we've gotten tremendously better on paper. Now, that doesn't always translate into success on the field. But we'd like to think that with our current group and the strong foundation that we have, that these players coming in will push us over the edge.
MLSsoccer.com: Is the aim to be a flagship franchise for MLS, in all aspects?
Zavagnin: Certainly, our ownership group is leading the way. Everything they've promised from Day 1, not only to the fans but to the coaches, the staff and the players, they've delivered. And not only have they delivered, they've exceeded all of our expectations. When you have a forward-thinking group like that leading the way, it's pretty easy to fall in line right down through the organization. I think everybody's really taken hold of that. When you look across the league and see the things our ownership group is doing, and our front office is accomplishing, and our fans are showing up week in and week out, selling out the stadium, it's an honor and a privilege to be part of. From a technical staff and player standpoint, we feel the pressure to perform week in and week out. When you put all those components together, it certainly makes for an outstanding organization.
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.