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Is Sporting KC the Eastern Conference Favorites? Three Questions for KC

If Sporting Kansas City’s season had a title, it would be “Night and Day”.  A tough start to the season, no doubt spurred on by the never-ending road trip, saw the team open Livestrong Park and use its great atmosphere to rocket to the top of the Eastern Conference.  Although they fell in the conference finals, the team has enough young players and talent that going into 2012, it has to be considered one of the favorites for the East.

So how can Sporting KC make this happen?  Here are “Three Questions” that will define how KC enters the new season:

1. Who replaces Omar Bravo?

With Bravo’s departure to Cruz Azul, Kansas City has two voids to fill, one that may be easier than the other.  The first is replacing the Mexican’s production, which in 2011 was nine goals and two assists.  While those are good numbers, Sporting had one of MLS’s most prolific offenses and the continued growth of players like Teal Bunbury and MLS Rookie of the Year CJ Sapong should replace those stats.  What may be missed even more is his leadership.  Bravo and Davy Arnaud split time as captains last season and both have left the team.  Who replaces that leadership on the field is critical to this team moving forward, something that may be harder with so many young players.  When the going gets tough, who will shoulder this team and carry them forward?  Bravo certainly did.

2. Does the team’s offseason turnover make them a better team?

For a team that made a conference finals, the amount of turnover this offseason has been incredible.  You can see the round-up of player moves here, but in essence the team got cheaper and younger.  In addition, the departures of Omar Bravo and Jeferson frees up two designated player slots that could be used to make a big-impact signing (maybe in the midfield?).  What has all of this shuffling brought them?  The team picked up veteran Bobby Convey from San Jose to replace Bravo and made a trade with Chivas USA to nab Pablo Nagamura, who potentially could play the holding midfield spot.  Their gamble leaving left back Seth Sinovic unprotected in the expansion draft led to the Davy Arnaud trade, which again freed up salary but lost them a veteran presence.  With potentially a bunch of new starters and first choice subs, will the new guys adequately replace the old ones?

3. Can the defense hold?

We know the team can score, and even next year with its departures this team will put up goals in bunches.  But can it stop opposing teams?  While KC had the second best goals allowed amount in the East, their 40 for the year would have put them fifth in the Western Conference (although their goal difference would have put them third).  As mentioned above, unless they use some of their money for a holding midfielder, that slot is going to Pablo Nagamura, who is an ok option to start but is injury prone.  Another player who may miss time on the pitch but due to disciplinary reasons is starting center back Aurelien Collins (he of the 9 yellow cards and one red last season).  This teams looks to be potentially a veteran defensive player signing away from having the back locked down and pushing this team to a higher level.