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Sounders v Sporting KC - Three Questions

First Kick 2014 starts with last year's MLS Cup Champions. The 2012 Open Cup winners. A club in the CCL Knockout stage this month. A club with a history of blowing it late against Seattle.

Jimmy Nielsen is now just a coach of their USL PRO affiliate. We'll always have last minute wins though.
Jimmy Nielsen is now just a coach of their USL PRO affiliate. We'll always have last minute wins though.

It's happened so often. Fucito, Parke, Neagle/Rosales, Traore - these are names that cause Sporting Kansas City fans fear. The SporKs know that tale too well. Over the last two seasons they've had the last laugh though. Seattle Sounders FC went without trophies. KC got two.

One side is possibly fading from dynasty talk while the other is building their resume. It's a perfect match to start the 2014 season. National soccer interest in these two teams should be huge. There are American national team players scattered through both rosters. Both clubs are targeting trophies rather than rebuilding. There will be 40,000 or so fans standing in Seattle sunshine.

Ben from The Daily Wiz is our guide to Match Day One's Three Questions.

SaH: The forward line went through changes throughout 2013 and yet was still strong enough to win MLS Cup. How is this year's trio of Dwyer, Sapong and Zusi (that looks to be the starters right) compare to last?

tDW: I think we'll see something similar to last year where Peter Vermes switched the players in and out based on who was the hot hand at the time. In fact, I would go as far to say that Zusi is the only player on the front line who will consistently start throughout the season. I wouldn't even be surprised to see Sal Zizzo get the start over Sapong on Saturday.

Compared to last year I think this group is still very strong. CJ Sapong is going to continue to improve and his performance in the playoffs hopefully points to that. Dwyer played well in his half of a season and is now ready to get a full season in MLS under his belt. Zusi is Zusi and is going to play well as he has been. Then, we have Sal Zizzo and Claudio Bieler who both looked really good in preseason. They will be contributors to this team.

I would go as far to say that this is the strongest front line for Sporting Kansas City in many years, which I predict will have better production than last year.

SaH: Rosell looks to be the starting most defensive mid this year. Tell our readers about him, but without saying "Barcelona Academy."

tDW: Rosell is an incredibly crucial part of the team that doesn't always get the recognition he deserves. He is in charge of being physical in the back of the midfield and stopping attacks before they get started. There's a reason he finished second in total yellow cards in MLS last season, right behind Collin. He's done an incredible job of being that brick wall that spearheads the defensive attack, allowing the back four to do their jobs well.

On offense, Rosell is in charge of setting up the offense in the defensive half. He sets up the passes to get the ball to Feilhaber or whoever is playing CAM, who then gets it to the wings or to the center forward. This doesn't happen without Rosell playing the ball forward.

Last year he really came into his own as a starter and will only get better as he is only 21 years old this year. While you might not hear of him in the highlights, he's incredibly important to the squad.

SaH: What did Eric Kronberg do to earn the starting nod?

tDW: To tell you the truth, I was surprised when Kronberg was named starter upon his contract extension a couple of months ago. I expected him and Gruenebaum to fight for the starting job in the preseason. However, I can see why Vermes decided to give him the starting job. For one, he's been with the team for eight seasons now and is by far the longest tenured player in the franchise. Second, he's a big, physical presence in the box that can jump up and get crosses above most players and is a great shot blocker.

Above all, I think that Vermes is rewarding Kronberg for his loyalty. Sure, Kronberg is a talented keeper but he has also been riding the pine for eight seasons, except for US Open Cup and CCL matches. Especially after sitting behind Nielsen for four years, Kronberg has earned a shot at being the starting keeper. I believe he has the chops to be an effective keeper, especially with Sporting KC's back line, but if not then Andy Gruenebaum is more than able to step in.

Significant Absences (call-ups, injuries, suspensions):

Out: Soony Saad (Lebanon), Peterson Joseph (Unknown injury).
Probable: Seth Sinovic, CJ Sapong.

Projected Lineup: (4-3-3) Kronberg; Sinovic, Besler, Collin, Myers; Rosell, Nagamura, Feilhaber; Zusi, Dwyer, Zizzo

* * *


tDW: After having a bit of a rough start last year, do you see Clint Dempsey gelling with the team more or do you foresee more problems in 2014?

SaH: Seattle can afford to get last year's Clint Dempsey. The other talent on the roster will push them into the Playoffs. But that isn't the target for the club. The club is specific. The goal is to challenge for trophies, to be there. To be there they need the Clint Dempsey of the end of 2012 and early 2013. The man that dominated CONCACAF and who was strong in the EPL. The finisher and the creator who earned the captain's armband.

It's now been nine months since we've seen Dempsey the Dominant. For the sake of the Sounders, and the sake of America, he needs to get back to it. He needs to try shit and have it work. Seattle needs it too. If Clint is Deuce than Seattle will challenge for all three Cups. Without him they'll be a decent squad.

He'll probably be in the 18 and not play since he went 180 minutes in the last week.

tDW: How will the absence of Eddie Johnson play into Seattle's plans for this year? Will they end up missing him or will they be able to sustain the strong attack from 2013?

SaH: The attack shifted. For the last two years it option one and two have been to serve the ball to Eddie's head. He did a great job at that, but the new attack is much less direct. There are options across the pitch and 15-yard passes are now the key. Despite having Obafemi Martins and two-time 18-goal scorer Kenny Cooper up top it is the midfield that makes up for his loss. Even if there is a diminished Dempsey there's still Pappa, Evans, Alonso and Yedlin (who in the attack is a midfielder). It's a kind of a variety that is unusual to Seattle and probably to the league. Every player listed earlier (except Yedlin) has shown they can net five or more goals in a league of this quality or better. There's also Neagle, Barrett, Estrada on the bench that have done it too.

There will be goals.

tDW: DeAndre Yedlin had a strong 2013 campaign, will there be a sophomore slump for him or will he continue to shine?

SaH: His crossing is continuing to improve and he seems to have learned quite a bit from his time with the US National Team in January. If his on-ball defense gets a touch better he could be the best right back in the league. Yedlin and the staff worked on his left foot as well. DeAndre also bucks peoples thoughts about his personality. They see the wild hair and the crazy outfits and think he's a bit off. Instead he is completely grounded. Talking to him is like talking to a multi-year veteran. He's built for this pro athlete thing.

Significant Absences (call-ups, injuries, suspensions): Gonzalez has a minor knock. Yedlin is probable.

Projected lineup: 4-1-3-2 (ish): Frei; Remick, Marshall, Anibaba, Yedlin; Alonso; Pappa, Evans, Neagle; Martins, Cooper

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