tBG) Sporting Kansas City's president Robb Heineman recently said that SKC was "the greatest (club) in MLS)". That certainly rubbed a lot of supporters from other clubs the wrong way - what can you offer as supporting evidence toward his point?
tBT) Currently, there’s a lot of evidence toward his point. Sporting have made the playoffs three straight years and are on their way to the fourth. They’ve finished second in the Supporters Shield standings in the past two years. Trophy-wise, they won the 2012 US Open Cup and the 2013 MLS Cup, qualifying for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 editions of the CONCACAF Champions League along the way. There are currently seven players on the team who are regulars on their respective national teams, including three who played in the World Cup. In terms of the soccer culture in Kansas City, Sporting KC has had 47 straight MLS sellouts and is widely regarded as one of the best atmosphere’s in the league with one of the best stadiums in the league. The ownership is willing to go and splurge on big players as evidenced by their $40 million bid for Michael Bradley before he signed for Toronto FC, but they have also shown a good developmental side considering the players that have come up and performed well, such as Kevin Ellis and Erik Palmer-Brown.
The club has done a lot of things right. Heineman is obviously going to be biased with this statement but I do believe there is some force behind it.
tBG) When Jimmy Nielsen retired at the end of last season, a lot of people had doubts about SKC's goalkeeping corps, but Eric Kronberg has silenced the critics with his minuscule 0.88 GAA. How huge has he been for this team?
tBT) A lot of that stat is inflated due to the strength of the defense but Eric Kronberg has proven himself to be a legitimate starting keeper. He’s made some mistakes and he’s earned some criticism but overall he has been solid. He’s an athletic keeper who comes off the line a lot, stopping some shots before they even happen. This leaves the goal open at points but he seems to be successful at it. Unfortunately, he’s been out for the past couple of weeks with a broken fourth metacarpal in his hand, which will keep him out for the few weeks. Andy Gruenebaum has been solid for Sporting as well, coming off his starting experience in Columbus. Sporting KC has really done well with keepers the past few years.
tBG) What will SKC need to do repeat as MLS champions?
tBT) The biggest thing they need to do right now is to stay the course and get into the playoffs. They currently have a one point advantage in the Eastern Conference over DC United (who has a game in hand) and have been very hot lately. SportsClubStats has them at a 99.95% chance to make the playoffs. It would take a collapse of Chiefs (sigh) proportions in order for them to not make it. As they chase the top spot in the East, the Supporters Shield and a spot in next year’s CCL, this should not be too much of a problem. Once in the playoffs it all comes down to showing up and performing well. They have shown they have the personnel to win games in the playoffs, they have experience winning in the playoffs and Sporting is 7-3-3 against the rest of the East this year. They have as good a shot as any, if not better.
Predicted lineup: Gruenebaum; Juliao, Collin, Palmer-Brown, Ellis; Claros, Feilhaber, Zusi; Dovale, Dwyer, Saad.
Predicted score: 2-0 Sporting KC