How will a new look Sporting Kansas City perform with the losses of Kamara, Espinoza?

Like Union, defending champions of MLS' East have questions

SKC team

Photo Credit: 
Getty images

Even the back-to-back Eastern Conference champions have questions to answer this season.

Kansas City will open the 2013 campaign at PPL Park without three starters from last year's 18-win squad.

And these aren't just role players. These are key contributors, two of whom are now playing in the English Premier League.

You've got irksome and efficient midfielder Roger Espinoza fitting in nicely with Wigan Athletic. Charismatic forward Kei Kamara is already a fan favorite at Norwich City. Steady defensive mid Julio Cesar moved on to Toronto FC.

"With Kamara and Espinoza, that says a lot about our league more so than anything - that guys are being plucked out of MLS and put into really important teams around the world, some of the best leagues in this case, and that's great." Union manager John Hackworth told reporters Wednesday. "It's great for all of us in the big picture, because I think it elevates our game in this country, and it elevates the awareness of our league around the world."

Read: Union series history against Sporting Kansas City

It's good for Major League Soccer, and it's good for any team not named Sporting Kansas City. Kamara and Espinoza were extremely effective in Peter Vermes' high pressure 4-3-3 system.

"For Sporting KC, I think that's a big hit," Hackworth continued. "I know Peter Vermes has worked really hard in the offseason to replace those guys, and in some cases those guys are not replaceable. He and his staff needed to go out and find guys, and Benny Feilhaber certainly was a good one."

Feilhaber, a midfielder and a U.S. national teamer made the move to Kansas City after a somewhat underwhelming pair of seasons in New England. He's expected to assume one of the starting midfield spots vacated by Espinoza and Cesar.

"I was fortunate enough to work with Benny (with the U.S. national team), and he's a really good player," Hackworth said. "I don't think this league has seen Benny play at his best. So we certainly feel like that's going to be a major situation on Saturday that we have to deal with."

In the other midfield spot, you might see 20 year-old Spaniard Oriol "Uri" Rosell. A product of the Barcelona youth system, he could find himself in the starting XI in just his second MLS season.

Popular opinion seems to suggest that midfield playmaker Graham Zusi could take Kamara's right sided forward position this season, while veteran Paulo Nagamura joins Feilhaber and Rosell in the midfield triangle.

That's assuming Vermes opens the season in the 4-3-3.

"We watched (Kansas City) a lot during preseason," Hackworth explained. "We have a good sense of what their strengths are. They had a good preseason, they played pretty similar to the way they played last year - which bodes well for us, because I think we both play a similar style. It's more of a chess match, to see who can make the play and benefit from the opportunities that we're given. So we know each other well, and that's going to be really interesting. They're good, and Benny's certainly a major, major player for them."

Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at k.kinkead@hotmail.com