But was talent really the problem at Sporting Kansas City?
Looks like Sporting Kansas City’s really reeling from the loss of Roger Espinoza, right? They liberated Benny Feilhaber from New England. Claudio Bieler’s been brought in from Ecuador. They even took a flyer on former Earthquake Ike Opara. Who doesn’t like a defender who could probably dunk on an 11-foot rim?
Once Sporting exits this paralyzing post-Espinoza mourning, they may not have anything left to do. After an explosive start to the offseason, you don’t have to go far to read evaluations making Kansas City the league’s 2013 favorite (though two words for that: history; December).
No doubt Kansas City will be formidable, and coming off recent disappointments, we could see a very hungry team at Livestrong this season. But it’s instructive to remember that talent wasn’t Kansas City’s problem last year. This team placed four players on MLS’s Best XI, none of whom were Kei Kamara or Roger Espinoza. Add in talents like C.J. Sapong, Chance Myers, Seth Sinovic - players that would move right into the starting XI of most MLS teams - and you had a starting XI to rival those in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Salt Lake.
Yet like so many teams over the last eight years, Kansas City got Kinnear’d in the playoff. Houston knocked them out at the conference semifinal round. Whether it was the Dynamo coach’s approach or Sporting’s bad leg in Houston, the conference champs were knocked out by the fifth seed. In the process, the squad proved thin and, more worrisome, did not have an alternate way of playing.
That was the main worry all along. You heard if everywhere, some variation on “Yes, Kansas City’s good, but what happens if they have to come up with a Plan B?” We found out. As Houston build a big lead at BBVA Compass Stadium, Kansas City showed no ability to make the kind of tweaks that could have stemmed the tide.
And it’s not as if the roster couldn’t manage a tweak. The team consistently played a high pressure 4-3-3 setup last year, but it’s not hard to see a team that could shift Kamara and Sapong into a two-striker approach. Whether it would have worked or not is difficult to say, but these are the type of variations you need to adjust.
They’re variations like Kinnear having two formations at his disposal. They’re variations like Bruce Arena being able to start either Edson Buddle or Landon Donovan up top with Robbie Keane.
They’re Plan Bs.
So even though Benny Feilhaber’s been brought it, he might not actually be an upgrade over what the team’s lost. Claudo Bieler’s on board, which will almost certainly provide a few more goals, but Ike Opara’s probably won’t have a significant impact. Still, from an optimist’s perspective, these are all positive steps.
But a more positive step would be developing that Plan B. Will Feilhaber do more for that than Espinoza? Will Bieler provide more versatility than Sapong? Because right now in Kansas City, it’s less about talent and more about implementation.