SKC hopes to be the top dog in the East again. (US Presswire)

SKC hopes to be the top dog in the East again. (US Presswire)

In my bold predictions last year, I stated that Sporting Kansas City would be the Supporters’ Shield winners and be a big contender for MLS Cup. In the end I was a little off on those two items, however, a USOC title win and a top seed in the Eastern Conference wasn’t too far off base.

Last season was pretty good to Sporting Kansas City. But the offseason has been interesting as Peter Vermes has had to go out and replace Roger Espinoza and now Kei Kamara. Both are in England and while Kamara could end up back in Kansas City this summer if his loan doesn’t lead to a sell, Sporting is left to figure out who steps up.

Vermes has made a decent amount of changes this winter and now it is time to see if it will be enough to keep them atop the Eastern Conference.

2012 MLS Record: 18-7-9 (1st in Eastern Conference), 63 points

[twocol_one]IN:
Josh Gardner (12/5/12 – trade from Montreal)
Benny Feilhaber (12/11/12 – trade from New England)
Ike Opara (12/12/12 – trade from San Jose)
Yann Songo’o (12/13/12)
Claudio Bieler (12/18/12 – transfer from LDU Quito)
Mikey Lopez (1/17/13 – SuperDraft)[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]OUT: 
Júlio César (11/19/12 – option declined)
Cyprian Hedrick (11/19/12 – option declined)
Neven Markovic (11/19/12 – option declined)
D/M Konrad Warzycha (11/19/12 – option declined)
Michael Harrington (12/3/12 – traded to Portland)
Korede Aiyegbuse (12/3/12 – option declined)
Luke Sassano (12/3/12 – option declined)
Roger Espinoza (1/4/12 – transfer to Wigan Athletic)[/twocol_one_last]

Key Questions for 2013

1. Can Bieler be the impact player they need him to be? Based on some early results that I’ve seen out of the preseason, I think so. SKC has to get a lot of productivity out of Bieler for this to work. It also means that without Kamara there, CJ Sapong and Teal Bunbury need to emerge as the next big striker there. But let’s not sleep on Graham Zusi here either, his ability on and off the ball should allow Bieler to do what he does best and give him the freedom on the offensive side of the ball to keep the Sporting attack flowing.

2. Is there enough depth to handle the extra load this season? Hello CCL games. That is what Sporting fans are thinking going into this new season. They’ll get their chances to play against the best teams in CONCACAF and see what they are made of against good competition. The question becomes, has Vermes done enough to keep his depth good enough for this tournament? I think so. Adding Ike Opara to the defense along with Josh Gardner were two wise moves. Landing Benny Failhaber was also quiet impressive. If Mikey Lopez can emerge as the next Espinoza in the midfield, I don’t think there will be any concerns over the depth.

3. Can they keep Zusi and Matt Besler for the entire year? European teams are beginning to really take notice of both Belser and Zusi. The more these two improve their game, the more teams will be watching. Don’t be shocked if at least one of them is involved in some summer transfer saga either. Vermes and company better have a backup plan in place in the event that one of these two (or both) get sold overseas.

Breakout Player for 2013

Mikey Lopez – I’ve already touched on him once before but I think the rookie could have a big year if he is able to step into the lineup early enough as the Espinoza or Julio Cesar replacement. He has all the tools to be very special in those spots.

Predictions for 2013

- SKC will escape their CCL group. I know it is way too early to say this given how the groups haven’t even been announced but I like this team a lot. They are solid from top to bottom and if Bieler can get their offense going, this team will go places.

- They will defend their USOC title up to the end. It all comes down to where the final will be located. If it is back home, they’ll defend it. If it is on the road though, I think they’ll come up short. Either way, I expect this team to go far yet again in the USOC.

- A second DP will be added this summer. A lot depends on the Kei Kamara transfer. Should that go through, SKC will have the allocation and the roster space to add a big target. I think they’ll pull the trigger on it too.