Despite recent success, Sporting KC determined to improve

Ed Zurga

Sporting Kansas City have made five player acquisitions during busy off-season.

On Tuesday Sporting Kansas City introduced the club's newest acquisition, Argentinean forward Claudio Bieler, at a press conference at Livestrong Sporting Park. Bieler, 28, will become the fourth designated player in the club's history (the others being Claudio Lopez, Omar Bravo, and Jeferson).

The signing of the former LDU Quito target-man probably caps off what has been a fast-paced and furious off season for Sporting KC, with the team adding a total of five players that should help keep the club in contention for the MLS Cup, and also allow them the roster flexibility to compete in three different competitions (MLS, US Open Cup, Champions League) in 2013.

With the loss of salary cap casualty Julio Cesar, as well as midfield-engine Roger Espinoza, it was clear at the end of a fine regular season, yet disappointing 2012 playoff campaign, that Sporting KC were going to have some major holes to fill if they were going to continue their regular-season dominance of the MLS Eastern Conference.

To further complicate Sporting Kansas City's off-season situation, the club's best defender, center back Matt Besler, was out of contract, and garnering attention from various teams overseas.

The potential was there for a massive loss of talent on the squad heading into the 2013 regular season that could potentially undermine what has been a whirlwind two years of regular season success for the organization.

But instead of allowing the club to regress with the loss of players such as Espinoza and the uncertainty of Besler's future with the team, Sporting Kansas City's front office appears even more determined to improve a team that has finished in first place in the Eastern Conference the past two years.

Perhaps top on the club's priority list was finding a way to re-sign Besler, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year. It didn't hurt Sporting Kansas City's chances that Besler was born and raised in the Kansas City area, and ultimately, the two sides came to an agreement on a three-year contract that should keep Sporting's defense one of the most dominant in MLS.

Sporting KC acquired midfielder Benny Feilhaber from New England to help lessen the blow of Espinoza heading to Wigan Athletic. For as good of a midfielder as Espinoza has been, Feilhaber should help improve the team's offense, as he excels at creating the final pass that should help facilitate scoring opportunities for the forwards.

Kansas City also traded for San Jose Earthquakes center back Ike Opara, Montreal Impact defender Josh Gardner, and signed French prospect Yann Songo'o, which will provide solid depth along Sporting KC's back line. With as many matches as Sporting KC will be playing in next season, that added depth will be key if Kansas City hopes to make an extended run in the US Open Cup and Champions League.

For Sporting KC CEO Robb Heineman, a first-place regular season finish simply will not suffice. At Bieler's introductory press conference on Tuesday, Heineman made it clear that the front office won't stop until they've attained their goal of bringing championships to Kansas City:

"I think we've been pretty clear on what our goals are, and that's to win championships," Heineman said. "This was a fine year. It wasn't a fantastic year. Winning a cup (US Open Cup) was good, but we want to win more cups."

Talk is cheap, especially in a sports town like Kansas City, where through the years fans have heard about the commitment to winning championships from Chiefs' CEO Clark Hunt, and the promise of fielding a competitive team from Royals' CEO David Glass, but little action to support those statements.

Heineman, manager Peter Vermes, and the rest of Sporting's front office are proving that their club is cut from a different cloth.

The 2012 incarnation of Sporting Kansas City fielded the best defense in Major League Soccer, but lacked finishing punch up top. For as talented as forwards such as CJ Sapong, Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury are, the team continually failed to convert their attacking style into goals, and ultimately it ended up costing them during their two-leg loss to the Houston Dynamo in the playoffs.

Insert the aforementioned Claudio Bieler, a player who scored 20 goals in 36 appearances for LDU Quito this season. On paper, Bieler is exactly the type of player that should be able to cure Kansas City's offensive woes.

Of course, there are still some uncertainties heading into 2013. No one really knows how a player like Bieler will adapt to the fast and physical league that is Major League Soccer. Injuries derailed Opara's career in San Jose. Some New England Revolution fans feel that Feilhaber is a player that doesn't give 100 percent when things aren't going his way.

Some critics even feel like Vermes may be the problem behind Sporting KC's playoff failures, although I don't agree with that sentiment.

So there are legitimate concerns about how all of these new acquisitions will integrate into the team. That remains to be seen.

But one thing is for certain; Sporting Kansas City's front office is determined to continuously improve this team until they find the right group of players that will allow them reach their goal of bringing multiple championships to Kansas City.

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