With just days left until opening day, MLSsoccer.com is halfway through previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing Sporting Kansas City's 2013 season. You can find Part 1 here.
2012 record: 18-7-9 (63 points); 42 GF / 27 GA (+15 GD)
Depth chart: 1. Jimmy Nielsen, 2. Eric Kronberg, 3. Jon Kempin
Strengths: Nielsen is a canny veteran coming off Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2012. He is a master of positioning his defense, and still has the athleticism to make saves when opponents get through that wall. Kronberg is a longtime backup who is ready to be someone's No. 1.
Weaknesses: Kronberg didn't get a lot of playing time in 2012, after a preseason back injury, and he hasn't played in either a league or US Open Cup match since 2011.
Wild card: If both 'keepers should somehow go down, can Homegrown No. 3 Kempin step in? He made some solid saves in his only senior outing last year, but also gave up two goals to USL Pro side Orlando City.
Depth chart: RB: 1. Chance Myers, 2. Mechack Jérôme, 3. Kevin Ellis; CB: 1. Aurélien Collin - Matt Besler, 2. Ike Opara - Yann Songo'o, 3. Lawrence Olum; LB: 1. Seth Sinovic, 2. Josh Gardner
Strengths: Sporting's backline was the league's stingiest in 2012, and they're all together again this year. Besler was the Defender of the Year, and Collin was also a Best XI selection. Together, they make up arguably the league's best central defensive pairing. Myers and Sinovic are both adept at overlapping runs, with the speed to get back and defend.
Weaknesses: Jérôme and Songo'o are new to the league, and Gardner and Opara are new to the club. There will be some adjustments to be made, and they'll have to get up to speed fairly quickly with Sporting involved in three competitions this year.
Wild card: How will manager Peter Vermes work in the newcomers, especially when his top four play so well together?
Depth chart: DM: 1. Uri Rosell, 2. Lawrence Olum, 3. Michael Thomas; CM: 1. Benny Feilhaber - Paulo Nagamura, 2. Josh Gardner - Peterson Joseph, 3. Christian Duke - Mikey Lopez, 4. Kyle Miller
Strengths: Rosell is young but possesses solid football smarts and passing skills. Nagamura has a ferocious work rate, and Feilhaber is learning his position quickly. When he's on form, Joseph is a fantastic passer of the ball.
Weaknesses: Sporting will miss Júlio César's savvy in the defensive midfield possition and Roger Espinoza's, well, everything. Feilhaber has big boots to fill after the Honduran international's departure to Wigan Athletic in the offseason, and he's coming off a subpar year with New England. Rosell needs to bulk up to withstand the physicality of the league.
Wild card: Can Joseph finally live up to his “Haitian Xavi” nickname on a regular basis?
Depth chart: LW: 1. Bobby Convey, 2. C.J. Sapong, 3. Dom Dwyer; CF: 1. Claudio Bieler, 2. C.J. Sapong, 3. Soony Saad; RW: 1. Graham Zusi, 2. Jacob Peterson, 3. Dom Dwyer; Note: Teal Bunbury (center forward) and Jacob Peterson (wing) are injured to start the season, but should see fairly regular playing time when healthy.
Strengths: Bieler is a proven scorer, albeit in Ecuador's top league. Convey is in his best shape in years, and mentally energized to boot. Zusi is one of the league's best at set piece service and should rediscover his long-distance scoring touch. Sapong is dangerous at all three front-line positions, making him a matchup nightmare when he's on the pitch.
Weaknesses: Elephant in the room first: Kei Kamara might not be coming back from his loan to Norwich City. (They're already singing songs in his honor there.) Bieler is still learning the high press. Teal Bunbury and Jacob Peterson are still working their way back from injuries.
Wild card: Two, actually. Will Kamara come back, and what kind of impact will Bunbury and Peterson make when they return to the rotation?