Sporting KC‘s 2016 season came to a brutal halt last Thursday. An offside Nelson Valdez scored his first goal of the season with only a couple minutes remaining. The goal knocked them out of the MLS Cup Playoffs in the knockout round for the third year running. With their season coming to a close we will look at what went right this year, what went wrong, and what they need to do in the offseason.
Sporting KC 2016 Season Review
What Went Right
There are a couple big things that stand out for this season. One is the young outside backs, Jimmy Medranda and Saad Abdul-Salaam. Abdul-Salaam might have been good enough at right back to earn first XI honors if the folks who take care of that knew how to put one together. He was that scintillating as a fullback and should get a USMNT look for the January camp, as they are always short on fullbacks. He’ll be a significant part of the team moving forward in 2017. Medranda himself was just as good. He had quite the strong year at left back. Despite getting knocked out of the XI with Seth Sinovic’s level of play at left back down the stretch, Medranda will definitely look to build on this year’s play for 2017.
Another thing that went right was the midfield three. At no point this season did anybody feel that the central midfield trio was lacking. Even when somebody was out, or when Roger Espinoza slid out to the left for the final three games of the year, Sporting’s central midfield was strong. Soni Mustivar and Benny Feilhaber had fantastic years, and Paulo Nagamura had a pretty good year with Sporting as well. His performances down the stretch were pretty valuable. The only thing about Naga is his contract hit for his level of fitness wasn’t exactly favorable.
What Went Wrong
When healthy, this Sporting KC team was one of the most difficult to beat in the league. Their lack of depth though beyond the first 14-15 players was excruciatingly bad, especially on the wing and at striker. There were plenty of able bodied helpers on the back-line as well, just too many injuries all at once crippled their ability to get a consistent feel. It cost them points plenty of times throughout the year. The lack of a quality playmaker on the wings was painful, especially when Graham Zusi was gone on international duty, or injured. Jacob Peterson was the only guy who filled in admirably on the wing. Connor Hallisey still hasn’t scored a goal from the run of play, and they never really replace Kristian Nemeth.
Another thing that went wrong was the drop-off in quality at forward. Dom Dwyer is one of the best strikers in the league, and having two of them is incredibly difficult to do with salary cap workings, and on Sporting KC’s budget. With that taken into account, Diego Rubio just never proved to be that level good enough. With only Cameron Porter and Dwyer healthy for most of next season, Sporting need to go and get another striker, and a solid second striker at that.
Here is a simple to-do list for Sporting KC, with each item explained:
- RE-SIGN BENNY
- If Sporting KC don’t re-sign Feilhaber, they are going to be in a world of hurt going forward. They need that creative midfield type for Vermes system. He’s the key to their success. If they don’t re-sign him, they better have a top level replacement lined up for him.
- Get a Second Tier Striker
- It’s fantastic the Dwyer was able to stay healthy for the majority of the season. However, that won’t be the case every season. Diego Rubio is probably out until July with his torn ACL. While Cameron Porter is a decent fill in, they need someone with a proven goalscoring record elsewhere, or in MLS. Porter has his couple of CCL goals to tout, and that’s about it.
- Get A DP Level Winger
- They have a cheap solution at outside back and in other places. That’s the key to being able to pay for a DP level wing talent. They badly missed the type of play Kristian Nemeth could provide. They need another replacement. With both Zusi and Peterson getting up their in age, it would be really nice to drop Espinoza back to the central midfield and nab a quality winger with the ability to come inside and create with Dwyer and others. If they had that type of dynamic threat, Dwyer could potentially see his goalscoring totals shoot up with the type of defensive attention that would draw.
- Make Better use of Money and Depth Signings
- Brad Davis, Justin Mapp, and Paulo Nagamura took up $804,070 of cap room, and had a total of two goals and two assists between them all. Brad Davis was the only one who was able to play more than 1000 minutes in 2016. Justin Mapp played 43 minutes and made $224,070. That’s a terrible allocation of depth money. I admire SKC for doing what they do money wise, but that was some bad business with the free agent signings. So far those haven’t proved to work out for anybody in MLS. They need to get better signings there for depth going into next year.