Brandon Wolack, KC SportsNation
The 2013 MLS season came with great success for Sporting Kansas City. With an overall league record 17-10-7 – good enough for second place in the race for the Supporters Shield – the team rallied to MLS Cup glory in front of the home supporters at a frozen Sporting Park.
Now, the 2014 edition of Sporting is tasked with defending the title while subsequently juggling a full slate of MLS, U.S. Open Cup, and Champion’s League games. Sporting Kansas City returns 10 out of 11 starters, with longtime goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen being the only starter absent. Nielsen retired following the 2013 season, and he is now the coach for Sporting affiliate Oklahoma City Energy FC. Eric Kronberg looks to replace Nielsen in goal, and Kansas City native Matt Besler was recently announced as captain.
Leading goal scorer Claudio Bieler (10 goals) is back for his sophomore season in MLS, as is assist leader Graham Zusi (8 assists). The league’s most dominant back line returns with Besler, Aurelien Collin, Chance Myers, and Seth Sinovic. It will be interesting to see how quickly cohesion develops between Kronberg and the defenders.
MLS play gets underway today (2:10) at Seattle against the Western Conference rival Sounders, who is 6-2 all-time against the Sporting. Last year at Sporting Park, the Sounders handed Sporting a 1-0 defeat.
Sporting will play its home opener on March 12 against Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul. This match will be the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The MLS home opener will take place three days later against FC Dallas.
The season outlook after the jump.