14-9-11 (W-T-L), 51 pts, 6th place in the Western Conference
2015 Goals For:
48, tied for 6th in MLS
2015 Goals Against:
45, tied for 9th in MLS
2015 Key Statistic:
Benny Feilhaber- 10 Goals (3rd among MLS midfielders), 15 Assists (1st among all players), 71 Key Passes (6th among all players), 2731 minutes, 31 years old
Brad Davis, Daniel Salloi
What they have going for them:
Sporting followed up their dominant 2013 season in which they won MLS Cup with first round playoff exits in 2014 and 2015. Last year's departure came on the heels of a late season swoon in which SKC picked up only 11 points in 12 games from August 19th to the end of the season, but came within a double-post-ricochet of dispatching eventual cup winners Portland Timbers in their first round loss.
Sporting played a fast-paced 4-3-3 that thrived off of Benny Feilhaber's ability to pick out passes with extreme precision, while making the second run or scoring just filthy long range goals too. Krisztian Nemeth could pinch in and bring the havoc from the left side, and Dom Dwyer, in a bit of a down year from his 2014 explosion for 22 goals, still paced the team with 12 goals in 2015. The defense includes USMNT regular Matt Besler, and experience vets Ike Opara, and Amobi Okugo.
And the young talent of Erik Palmer-Brown, who could emerge in 2016 at only 18 years old as the next big American central defender to catch Europe's eye.
* Update: I wrote that, and three days later, Palmer-Brown was sold on to FC Porto. I'm available to scout in your front office and perform seances at Bar Mitzvahs.*
The team also promoted a young Homegrown, Daniel Salloi, who tore it up at striker for the academy team. At 6'1", I anticipate that if Salloi starts, the team will either move Dom Dwyer to the wing, or switch from a three-attacker system to a formation with only two strikers.
Feilhaber had a career year, at age 30, and logged the most minutes he has ever played in his career. Part of that is due to Jurgen Klinsmann's exclusion of him from the USMNT, which meant that while Michael Bradley and Gyasi Zardes are running down their batteries in qualifiers all over the world, Feilhaber could keep to a regular schedule here in America. However, if Feilhaber's form dips, or if he gets injured, this team is in trouble. Although Soni Mustivar can do some things, the other midfield options are the pedestrian and unexciting Pablo Nagamura and the irregularly-performing Roger Espinoza.
The departure of Nemeth leaves a lack of options at striker. Jacob Peterson and the aforementioned Salloi and Dwyer are it, so either they add some bodies up top or this team will switch formations in 2016. Also, SKC added the perfect-pinging but slow-of-foot Brad Davis in the off season. He can play at either wing, preferring the left, but he ain't fast. Graham Zusi played on the right side, but wasn't that impressive last year after a fantastic 2014. It's possible that SKC could roll out four attacking players; Zusi, Dwyer, Davis, and Feilhaber; that are on the backsides of their careers. If all four slide in 2016, this team could struggle.
Lastly, the back line has some holes. Kevin Ellis, Amadou Dia, Chance Myers, and Seth Sinovic played a lot of minutes here in 2015, and each had a tendency to get beat somewhat often. The 9th-best defense in MLS last year has only shored itself up with a 30 year-old CB from a Turkish second division side named Andre Coehlo. Update: And now without Palmer-Brown, there's no clear young gun to emerge and help lock things down. Uh-oh.
This team is like the San Antonio Spurs of MLS. While everyone else gets younger, better, and slicker, they say ‘we'll stay with what's worked one more time.' I think this is the year it stops working. 8th in the Western Conference.