Brad Davis takes a corner for Sporting KC
Steve Cavecche

Armchair Analyst: Sporting KC can create, but finishing is now a concern

You may not quite remember this, but there was a time last summer when Sporting KC were the hot pick to win the Supporters' Shield. Here's a thread from /r/MLS that attempted to handicap the race in mid-August, and actually put Sporting as the favorites. This a point when KC were well ahead of the pack on points per game and had just qualified for the US Open Cup final (which they'd go on to win).

But as I pointed out in that thread, looks were deceiving. Sporting had played a home-heavy schedule at that point, and were due to drop off. Which, of course, they did, falling from first in the league in PPG on August 15 to 10th by the time the regular season wrapped up in late October. They went 3-7-2, and it was no bueno.

Fatigue, especially along the back line, was part of it. Just as important was (a lack of) goal-scoring, as during those final 12 games they were shut out five times and scored more than one goal on just three occasions. In the 12 games preceding that run, they'd scored multiple goals six times and were shut out once.

That brings us to this:

KC sold their only goal-scoring wing in Krisztian Nemeth, and brought in a pair of veteran replacements in Brad Davis and Justin Mapp. Both are excellent players -- Davis was at the World Cup in 2014, and Mapp probably should have been. They're creative, they're consistent, they know how to win in MLS at altitude, in heat, on turf, or in front of packed/empty stadiums. Combined they have nearly 200 career assists.

Neither, however, is a goal-scorer. Neither is Graham Zusi, neither is Jacob Peterson, and neither, really, is Benny Feilhaber (half of his 10 goals from last season came via PK).

That puts a lot of run-of-play pressure onto the shoulders of Dom Dwyer, who is the sort to welcome it of course. But even if Dwyer replicates his 2014 numbers, Sporting are still bereft of a Plan B -- the type of in-the-box genius Nemeth had a habit of conjuring, including in the playoffs.

Every team in MLS has one flaw or another, but I think it's telling that the last four Supporters' Shield winners all had precisely balanced attacks. Defense may win MLS Cup, but it's a diverse and unpredictable attack that carries teams in the regular season.

To that point: The 2012 Earthquakes had Chris Wondolowski bang home 27 goals, and got 31 more from Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart and Simon Dawkins. The 2013 Red Bulls had Tim Cahill, Thierry Henry, Fabian Espindola and Lloyd Sam. The 2014 Sounders got monster years from Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey, and also found 22 goals combined from Lamar Neagle, Marco Pappa and Chad Barrett

And last year's RBNY got 44 goals from their attacking front four, as well as a young, backup No. 9 in Anatole Abang who provided four pretty crucial goals in less than 400 minutes of playing time. If Daniel Salloi can approximate that kind of production this year at Children's Mercy Park, it'll obviously help a bit.

But it won't entirely solve the problem staring Sporting right in the face -- three of those four Shield winners led the league in goals, and the other (2014 Seattle) were second overall. Does anybody really see the firepower on this Sporting roster to replicate that?

Peter Vermes is going to have to coax some goals out a group of wingers who historically have not been that type of player. With Davis, Mapp and Zusi around Sporting won't lack for creativity, but I'm just not sure who'll be able to put the ball into the net.

Author's Note

This is the fifth in a daily series counting down to to the MLS regular season first kick on March 6. I'm using Paul Carr's tweets (with his blessing) to examine some of the bigger storylines to follow in the upcoming season.

Series: 
Topics: