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Western Conference Preview: Sporting Kansas City

What can we expect in 2016 from the team that finished 6th in the West in 2015?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting were actually the league leaders in points per game last season up until the summer, boosted by a front-loaded schedule of home games. After August 15th, however, SKC suffered a precipitous drop off where they dragged to a 3-7-2 end of the season. During those final twelve games, KC scored multiple goals on only three occasions and were shut out five times. San Jose nearly nipped them for the final playoff spot.

One issue contributing to this slide was fatigue and instability on the backline. Ike Opara went down seven games into the season. The left back for most of the season was rookie Amadou Dia. Chance Myers was injured for a long stretch, causing coach Peter Vermes to shake up the backline. Fortunately for Vermes, Opara and Myers are healthy once again and Dia has a year under his belt. Sporting's defense should be stronger this season.

The other issue for Kansas City is goalscoring. When striker Dom Dwyer went through a cold streak last season, winger Krisztian Nemeth and maestro Benny Feilhaber chipped in at key moments with 10 goals each. In a shocking transfer this January, Nemeth departed for Qatari club Al-Gharafa when SKC would not meet his wage demands. Benny had an all-star caliber campaign, one that was such an outlier over his career that it surely cannot be repeated. When Dwyer goes cold this year, who will step up and contribute a finishing touch? Vermes is high on 19-year old homegrown forward Daniel Salloi, but he would either replace Dwyer in the lineup or force a formation change to accommodate a second striker.

Sporting picked up outside midfielders Justin "Mississippi Messi" Mapp and Brad Davis this offseason. They will likely split time at left mid opposite Graham Zusi. Mapp brings a sharp touch and creativity to the midfield, but is not a reliable goal scorer. Brad Davis has the best left foot in the league and can cross the ball better than anyone from the left touchline. But Dwyer is not known for his aerial prowess and prefers the ground through balls that Feilhaber supplies. A cross into the box from Davis would effectively end possession. Mapp and Davis are both aging and slow, which will exacerbate the problem that SKC faced last year where speedy wingers feasted on the open space in behind them. When Kansas City won MLS Cup in 2013, Vermes utilized a high pressing system that is certainly not possible with this squad.

Peter Vermes is a smart coach. It is a certainty that he is aware of the problem and the SKC scouts are scouring the world for goal scoring contributors.

Bottom Line: Without goalscoring help, one injury or cold snap for Dwyer and the season will be a total loss. When will this help arrive, and will it be too late?

Projected Strongest Lineup: