Kansas City star sports writer Sam McDowell gives us the scouting report on Sporting Kansas City ahead of Saturday’s match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
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How is this team different than it was last year?
SM: The differences may not be immediately noticeable. The high-pressing style will always be a Peter Vermes staple. And in the season opener Sunday in Seattle, Sporting Kansas City started 10 players who were on the roster last season. (Of course, it was the one new guy — centre back Nuno Andre Coelho — who scored the only goal.)
But there is a primary distinction between this season's roster and the 2015 group.
Sporting KC brought in players such as Coelho, Brad Davis and Justin Mapp to improve the practice competition and perhaps better prepare for injuries that have ravaged the roster the past two seasons. Those differences could manifest deeper into the summer.
What are some of the main takeaways from SKC’s season opener?
SM: The aforementioned offseason plan — adding depth — was successful. Well, so far.
Sporting KC stole a road victory against a Western Conference opponent with second-year players Amadou Dia and Connor Hallisey in the starting lineup and Benny Feilhaber, Seth Sinovic, Brad Davis and Ike Opara out with injuries.
Another takeaway: The new central back pairing of Coelho and captain Matt Besler worked well together in their first competitive match playing alongside each other. Seattle managed only two shots on goalkeeper Tim Melia.
Which player makes this team tick?
SM: Midfielder Roger Espinoza has three goals in 131 career MLS appearances.
He isn't flashy.
But he's certainly effective.
Sporting KC is a different team with Espinoza on the field, and if you require evidence, take a look at the end of last season. Espinoza missed the final three months with a foot injury, and Sporting KC stumbled down the stretch. That's no coincidence. He's a calming presence on the field with an uncanny ability to remove an opponent's top midfielder.