It's fair to say that Sporting Kansas City didn't have the best of times in the 2014 Major League Soccer season, and fans and players alike will want to put the season behind them and move on. So, we'll touch briefly on the positives from this past season before talking about the offseason, and get it out of the way early. The biggest positive, in this writer's opinion, was the emergence of Dom Dwyer as one of the league's top strikers.
His 22 goals in 33 appearances in MLS were the second-most in the league behind only Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls. On top of Dwyer's rise, 2014 saw the first team debut of United States U20 international Erik Palmer-Brown. The 17-year-old may not have had a dream debut, getting sent off against Chicago Fire, but his three first team appearances are certainly something to build on in 2015. In spite of making only three appearances, Palmer-Brown has attracted the interest of Italian champions Juventus, and Sporting are rumored to have rejected a $1 million bid for the defender.
Finally, Sporting managed to keep hold of USMNT stars Graham Zusi and Matt Besler despite international interest in the two following the World Cup. The biggest interest came from Premier League teams Queens Park Rangers and Southampton, who were both interested in signing Besler; however neither side was successful in obtaining him.
However, there were a number of players who did leave the club in this offseason. In November, it was announced that the club would decline to pick up options on six players: Toni Dovale, Sal Zizzo, Andy Gruenebaum, Eric Kronberg, Michael Kafari and Victor Munoz. Kronberg and Gruenebaum were picked up by the Montreal Impact and the San Jose Earthquakes respectively in the Re-Entry draft, while Zizzo was taken by New York City Football Club in the Expansion Draft, although they immediately traded him to their crosstown rivals, the New York Red Bulls.
At the same time that the club announced they would be declining the six options mentioned, they also announced that Lawrence Olum's contract would be terminated by mutual consent. The club also traded away two players: CJ Sapong left for Philadelphia Union, while star centre-back Aurelien Collin was traded to SKC's former USL PRO affliate Orlando City, one of the newest members of MLS. Finally, it was announced today (January 20th) that the club would be parting ways with striker Claudio Bieler, who will now be a free agent.
Sporting also brought in a number of new players. They brought in Jalil Anibaba as a part of the Collin trade, and also traded for Bernardo Anor from Columbus Crew in exchange for allocation money. They also spent an undisclosed amount of money on former Chile captain Luis Marin, to replace their two outgoing goalkeepers. On top of these moves, Sporting also brought in three players on free transfers. Midfielder James Marcelin was brought in from NASL side Fort Lauderdale Strikers, but the biggest signings of the summer were those of two unattached ex-Premier League players.
Former Liverpool FC striker and current Hungary international Krisztian Nemeth was brought in to boost Sporting's attacking options, and fans will hope he can form a great partnership with Dom Dwyer. The other big free agent signed by Sporting this year was Roger Espinoza, who played 113 matches for the club between 2008 and 2012 before leaving for Wigan Athletic. The versatile holding midfielder/wing back will be an excellent utility player, able to cover a number of positions as needed.
Sporting also aquired five players through the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. They had three picks in the first round, as they received the Union's first round pick in the trade for Sapong, and MLS Cup runners up New England Revolution's in a trade earlier in 2014 for Teal Bunbury.
With their first round picks, Sporting took midfielder Connor Hallisey, and defenders Saad Abdul Salaam and Amadou Dia. They then traded their second round draft pick to Houston Dynamo in exchange for the MLS rights to Servando Carrasco. In round three, Sporting selected midfielder James Rogers, and in round four they took defender Tony Rocha.
The 2015 MLS season will be a new challenge for Sporting Kansas City, who have now been moved into the Western Conference to accomadate the additions of Orlando and NYCFC to the Eastern Conference. This will mean a very different fixture schedule, as they will play the Eastern Conference teams just once this year, unlike in recent years where they have faced off with each Eastern team multiple times.
Sporting will begin at home at Sporting Park for the first time since 2010, where they will face the Red Bulls on March 8th, which will be their third MLS fixture in a row against the New York side. That will be an intriguing fixture, given that they faced each other on the final matchday of the 2014 season and New York defeated Sporting in the Wildcard round of the playoffs last season. Their final game of the 2015 regular season will be against the reigning champs LA Galaxy on October 25th.