March to March 9: Scouting Sporting Kansas City
Ahead of the second match of the Walt Disney World Result Pro Soccer Classic tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 13) at 6 p.m. ET (dcunited.com/live), we take a look at fellow Eastern Conference rival Sporting Kansas City.
A (Recent) History Lesson
Getting off to a hot 7-0-0 start to begin the 2012 campaign, with the Black-and-Red as its first casualty, Kansas City was the early favorite to take home the MLS Cup. However, despite ultimately winning the Eastern Conference in the regular-season – just ahead of D.C. United – Sporting fell short to the Houston Dynamo in the semifinal round of the 2012 playoffs. At season’s end, four Kansas City players would join United’s Chris Pontius in being named to the MLS Best XI team, with Jimmy Nielsen (GK), Aurelien Collin (D), Matt Besler (D), and Graham Zusi (M) all making the cut. Nielsen was also named the Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, while Besler was awarded MLS’ Defender of the Year.
Interestingly enough, United and Sporting’s all-time regular-season records show a split in wins, while the clubs have tied on nine other occasions (18-18-9). However, Kansas City has had the Black-and-Red’s number as of late, winning the last four meetings spanning the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
While all four of Sporting’s Best XI selections – Besler, Collin, Nielsen and Zusi – are returning in 2013, 2012 leading-scorer Kei Kamara and playmaker Roger Espinoza are noticeably absent. Kamara, an aerial threat who also is unafraid to shoot, was recently sent on a four-month loan to English Premier League (EPL) side Norwich City. Espinoza, on the other hand is gone for good. The Honduran international left Kansas City after the 2012 season on a free transfer to EPL club Wigan Athletic.
And the Sporting technical staff wasted no time in loading up with offensive reinforcements. On Dec. 18, 2012, the team introduced 28-year-old forward Claudio Bieler, who scored 57 goals in 110 league games for LDU Quito of Ecuador’s Serie A, as a Designated Player (DP). The Argentina/Ecuador dual citizen’s 71 strikes in 155 games in all competitions for LDU Quito is a club record, finishing amongst the league’s top three goalscorers in three of out four seasons.
Just two weeks before Bieler’s transaction went through, Sporting traded with the New England Revolution for creative force Benny Feilhaber. While the Brazilian-born U.S. international had his least productive MLS season in 2012 – only tallying one goal and two assists – numerous pundits still recognize his abundance of playmaking potential, including Jurgen Klinsmann Most recently, Feilhaber was called into U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) camp in January and played 44 minutes in a 0-0 draw against Canada on Jan. 29. A 2010 FIFA World Cup squad member, Feilhaber has appeared in 40 matches overall for the USMNT, netting two goals total.
Before suiting up in a D.C. United kit, many members of the Black-and-Red had crossed paths with Sporting Kansas City players in their previous soccer lives.
Bobby Convey – a former United player – first encountered defender Brandon McDonald as a part of the San Jose Earthquakes from 2009-11. Together, they reached the playoffs semifinals in 2010 and both scored three goals apiece as a part of the Earthquakes squad in their respective tenures there.
United captain Dwayne De Rosario and Jacob Peterson both overlapped at Toronto FC in 2010 and 2011, where they captured the Canadian Championship together in 2010. By the time Toronto won this title in 2011, De Rosario was gone and playing for the New York Red Bulls.
2011 MLS Rookie of the Year finalist Perry Kitchen and Kansas City’s Teal Bunbury share an alma mater – University of Akron – but never played together under Head Coach Caleb Porter. As a freshman in 2010, Kitchen helped to lead the school to its first-ever NCAA title and left after the season to sign a Generation adidas contract with MLS. Bunbury played for the Zips for two seasons during 2008 and 2009, leading the nation in goals (17) in 2009. The two were, however, both part of the U.S. U-23 Men’s National Team that barely did not qualify for the 2012 London Olympic Games.