Since its rebranding, Sporting Kansas City (SKC) has fought hard for the Major League Soccer (MLS) Championship Cup and came close to the championship game many times. But the spell is broken. SKC won the Cup against Real Salt Lake after 10 rounds of penalty kicks for the first time since 2000.
SKC is just three games into the MLS regular season and already they are showing the potential to win the Cup for the second year in a row. The team is currently 1-1-1*, which is the same record the team started out with last year. SKC lost in the quarterfinals in the CONCACAF Champions League, making it the farthest MLS team to advance.
Beginnings of the season are always tricky, but I trust in SKC. And with that, I confidently present six reasons why SKC will win the MLS Cup again.
SKC has always focused on local, homegrown items. From choosing Ivy Funds, a Kansas City based mutual funds company, to be on the team’s jerseys to serving Boulevard Beer at the stadium, SKC has slowly become an integral part of Kansas City. Years ago, it was unusual to see somebody wearing the Kansas City Wizards gear. Now, SKC clothing is everywhere.
SKC has made the push to integrate the fans and the city even more this season thorough it’s 2014 season advertising campaign. Their campaign includes the slogan “We Defend Together” and includes pictures of fans and players together wearing SKC gear while holding the MLS Championship Cup.
The players that SKC chose for the picture in the campaign are key. They choose Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Chance Myers and Aurelien Collin. Both Sinovic and Besler are homegrown players, meaning they both grew up in Kansas City. Myers has been a part of the team since 2008 and Collin has been a fan favorite ever since he joined the team in 2011.
The campaign is reminding Kansas City that SKC is the city’s team. The pride of SKC and the team’s new campaign will unite the city and fans which will in turn, help the team advance. The players of SKC feed off the fans and this will definitely help the team. SKC is once again collaborating with The Cauldron, SKC’s largest, loudest and most loyal fan group, on banners, chants and road trips. All these elements combined will give the team the push they need when down a goal.
SKC has become a breeding ground for well-rounded, strong players. Peter Vermes does a great job grooming players and turning them into stars. Most players would move onto better paying teams but SKC players are choosing to stay in Kansas City. The team roster is filled with experienced players who have been on the team back when they were the Wizards.
SKC will have an upper hand with its stacked roster. The experienced players will help the team advance and in turn make all the new players on the team even better. The system that Peter Vermes has is working and it doesn’t look that it’s bound to change anytime soon.
Recently, SKC had five players, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber, Chance Meyers and Seth Sinovic, out of 26 attend the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) for a World Cup preparation in January. SKC sent the most players out of any other team, with Feilhaber, Meyers and Sinovic attending for their first time.
Not only have SKC players had success in the United States, but many players have gone to play abroad. Kei Kamara, a former player on the team from 2009 to 2013, now plays for Middlesbrough in the Football League Championship over in England. Former player Roger Espinoza began playing for Wigan Athletic in 2012 in the same league as Kamara.
3. Sal Zizzo
SKC midfielder Sal Zizzo is one of the five new players that SKC picked up before the start of the 2014 season. Zizzo began his MLS career with Chivas USA in 2010. He played there for one year before being acquired by the Portland Timbers, where he played there for three seasons.
Zizzo’s playing time tapered off while playing for the Timbers, but for SKC, he is seeing a lot of action early in the season. Coach and manager Peter Vermes has been switching up starting lineups these past couple games to see how players work together on the field. So far, Zizzo has been stepping up and proving his usefulness to the team. If Zizzo continues his strong work ethic and passing, he’ll be a commonly found player in the starting lineup.
Matt Besler is an integral part of SKC. Whether he’s on defense at Sporting Park or with the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, Besler represents Kansas City. The defender has been a part of the team since 2009, is one of the hardest working players and one of the most respected players on the team. Peter Vermes’s decision to make Besler team captain was perfect.
The communication and collaboration that is necessary as a member of the defensive line is something that Besler will bring as team captain. Besler will make sure that the team is cohesive on and off the field. As a hard worker himself, Besler will make sure the team is giving 100 percent on both the practice fields and the game fields. The entire team respects Besler and his captainship will have an effect on the team’s performance during the season.
Dom Dwyer, a forward, joined the SKC family in 2012 and is quickly becoming a key player on the team. Dwyer slowly started playing more on the team over the past two years but now three games into the 2014 season, Dwyer has started each game and already has a goal to his name.
Dwyer, originally from Cuckfield, England, is a fast, young forward with the ability to dart in between defenders. SKC hasn’t had strong, reliable forwards in the past couple seasons and has had to rely on midfields, and sometimes even defenders to score goals. Dwyer is a welcome change to the usual team lineup. His excellent positioning and ability to read plays well is not the only admirable quality of Dwyer. At 5’9” and 180 pounds, Dwyer is big for both a forward and a 23-year-old. He has been practicing hard during the off-season and it’s been paying off. Dwyer can barrell through defenders, giving him a huge advantage when he has a scoring opportunity. For SKC, he will be an asset to the team this season and for many more seasons to come.
Before SKC goalkeeper Eric Kronberg stepped onto the damp field at the CenturyLink stadium, he had played a total of 382 minutes for SKC. This, compared to the 11,467 minutes starting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen played over four seasons while he was at SKC, is not much. But Kronberg isn’t a rookie player. No, he’s been on the team for eight seasons.
Eric Kronberg is the longest tenured player at SKC. He was signed onto the team in 2006 when the team was still known as the Wizards. Kronberg played one game in the 2010 season and then played 292 minutes in 2011. But the season-opener against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, March 8 was the first time Kronberg played since 2011.
Kronberg could make or break SKC’s season depending on how he goes for the next couple games. If Kronberg is able to be confident on the field despite his limited experience, he will be able to rise to the legacy that retired goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen left behind. However, if Kronberg doesn’t perform well, that might be it for the goalkeeper’s soccer career. Kronberg has high expectations and demands to meet as the goalkeeper, but his longevity on the team will help with communication and understanding amongst the team.
If Kronberg doesn’t work out for the team, SKC has Andy Gruenebaum. Gruenebaum was signed to SKC after the retirement of Nielsen. Gruenebaum previously played for the Columbus Crew since 2006 and was in goal for a total of 7065 minutes.