Despite not getting the publicity other clubs in MLS get, Sporting KC has ramped up their offseason by doing some Christmas shopping.
Like several clubs, the one-time Wiz has gone about their business out of the bright lights of clubs like New York Red Bulls, LA Galaxy and even Toronto FC. This can be seen as one of the benefits of being a small market club – otherwise known as a provincial club in other parts of the world.
After losing players, voluntary or involuntary in the case of Roger Espinoza, Peter Vermes and company have addressed key areas of the squad. Whether the manager has improved his team or not will be judged in the spring, but Sporting has at least made moves that, on paper, can help the club get over the MLS Playoff hump. A hump the team has encountered in two consecutive seasons.
The club has already moved six players, other than Espinoza, elsewhere. Meanwhile, Sporting has acquired five players that range from back-ups to potential best XI players in 2013.
Sporting started by adding depth to the squad by trading for Josh Gardner and Ike Opara. Gardner is a veteran defender and midfielder the club picked up from Montreal Impact for a second-round 2013 MLS SuperDraft pick.
Sporting will be Gardner’s fifth MLS team since he entered the league with the Galaxy in 2004. His salary and versatility make him an improvement over back-ups Korede Aiyegbusi or Cyrpian Hendrick, both of who were waived by the club.
Like Gardner, once highly regarded defender Ike Opara joined Sporting in an exchange for a second-round draft pick. Just a few short years ago, Opara was expected to be Oguchi Onyewu’s natural replacement in the US national team, however, injury and poor form have plagued him since joining the league with San Jose Earthquakes in 2010.
Vermes has been able to turn good college players like Graham Zusi and Teal Bunbury into top-quality MLS players. But with Opara failing to be a consistent starter in San Jose, this maybe Vermes’ toughest test yet.
While both Gardner and Opara will see most of their action coming off the bench or in cup competitions, Sporting signed to players that could propel them to their first MLS Cup since 2000, in consecutive weeks.
Benny Feilhaber and Claudio Bieler have joined the club to increase Sporting’s already potent attack. Feilhaber was acquired in a trade with the New England Revolution for Sporting’s 2013 first-round draft pick, 2015 second-round draft pick and allocation money. With Vermes eye for spotting college talent, it maybe quite telling at what is on offer in this year’s SuperDraft coupled with Sporting’s draft slot.
Feilhaber truly burst on to the US soccer radar with his 2007 Gold Cup goal against Mexico. But after a failed move to Derby County in the English Premier League, the midfielder found mixed results at Danish side Aarhus. Seemingly unwanted by New England, Feilhaber will potentially play as a deep-lying playmaker for Sporting. Thus allowing Graham Zusi to play further up the pitch.
Until this week, Feilhaber’s signing was met with mixed reactions as many KC supporters had a new striker on their Christmas wish lists. This week the club obliged by adding Argentine Bieler from Ecuador’s LDU Quito. Bieler becomes the club’s fourth Designated Player in team history and brings a fantastic strike record with him.
Over the last two seasons, Bieler has tallied 22 goals in 48 games and it is at LDU that Bieler has made his name as a soccer player during three stints with the club. The Argentine will now join Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury as Sporting’s attacking options.
It maybe wise , however, to take the signing Bieler with a grain of salt. Despite being excellent at LDU, the striker hasn’t had the same proficiency elsewhere. Take into account Ecuador’s Serie A is mid-level in terms of league power in South America and the style of play is much different to that of MLS. Both factors could make Bieler’s settling in at KC difficult.
Perhap the good news is Bieler has played against some of the best talent in South America courtesy of the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Subamericana. Also, LDU was listed as the number four team in South America as of November according to ranking. Both factors should help to ease supporters’ anxiety.
The team’s player moves so far this offseason shows Sporting’s ambition for the 2013 season. The club will play in three competitions – US Open Cup, MLS Cup, Champions League – and they will need enough player cover to play such a long arduous season.
The signing of Feilhaber and Bieler also shows Sporting’s desire to take attacking football into the Champions League. Feilhaber has played at a World Cup and in Europe, and Bieler has played in South America’s version of the tournament which is undoubtedly a step-up in quality.
Though the signings have been good so far, Sporting may still have a way to go. While some teams are taking a rest this offseason, Sporting has gone about their business early in preparations for first kick 2013. And the team has given their fans something to be interested in during this offseason.