Major League Soccer is back. And, to get you ready for the season, the Talkin' Touches crew is going to go over some of the biggest offseason developments and questions to help you prep for Sporting Kansas City's return to action. In our first installment, Andy Edwards, Charles Gooch and Tate Steinlage run down the biggest question marks/storylines entering the season.
Earlier, we dealt with the offseason acquisitions. Now, we'll turn our attention to the bigger picture:
What's the storyline you're watching closely this year?
[Gooch] There's a ton of options here, but I'm fascinated to see how Sporting KC (and Peter Vermes) deal with the summer swoon that has hit them each of the last three seasons. Whether it be injuries, form, fatigue, humidity, or allergies, something has been off with this squad come August and September.
The first sign I'll look for this year is if Vermes is more aggressive with his roster and rotations earlier in the season. He's always been a guy that has rolled his starting 11 over from game to game when it produced results. Is that reliance on a small core of players detrimental to the team's form later in the season? [Andy, interjecting: Yes, it is.] If you haven't noticed, MLS is a loooooooong season. And there's a loooooooot of travel. In the biggest European leagues, rotation isn't just an option, it's a necessity. Some MLS coaches (like Oscar Pareja in Dallas) have embraced that philosophy. For others, it's taken time.
Swoons happen to every team (Seattle won MLS Cup despite a swoon that lasted four months last year). But swoons that start in August are crushing. That's when teams are supposed to start getting into shape for the final run and coaches stop tweaking formations and rotations. That's not been the case for Sporting KC, who slid from the middle of the pack to the last spot in the playoffs each of the last two seasons — and lost to the eventual MLS Cup champion in heartbreaking fashion.
That's still quite painful. Poor Saad Abdul-Salam.
[Tate] It may seem like hyperbole, but this is somewhat of a make-or-break year for the club overall. It’s only been one full season since Sporting KC last collected a piece of hardware, but Sporting KC's playoff runs have left a lot to be desired since winning MLS Cup 2013. With the way other MLS teams seem willing to spend money, some fans have grown restless and attribute that to the club’s economical approach to its roster.
Moreover, 2017 will say a lot about the club’s relevance within its region. Since 2013, the Royals have gone to the World Series twice, capturing the crown in 2015, and the Chiefs have won a division title en route to two straight playoff appearances. The shine of a new stadium has begun to wear off. While a passionate fanbase remains, one must begin to wonder if casual fans are still interested. Not only was last season rough in the win column, but the product simply wasn’t entertaining to watch. What Sporting KC are able to do this season will likely set the pace for the next several years.
[Andy] I love the roster-building aspect of all sports — hence my love of staying up past 6 am to play Football Manager — so I simply want to see Vermes build his second championship team. I think enough of the mid-roster players have gone from the 2013 Cup-winning team that we can officially call this “a new team,” would you agree?
“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse” has never been more true than in present-day MLS. The team that was “good enough” last year is nowhere near good enough the following season, and that goes for all 22 organizations across the league. In hindsight, Vermes and Co. needed to be miles more aggressive with their offseason signings in the weeks after winning the Cup. Instead, they ran it back with the exact same core group of guys — sans Jimmy Nielsen — and added little more than inexpensive occupiers of roster spots. The only impactful signing that season? Jimmy Medranda, and even that took an additional 30 months to come to pass.