If you have ever had the chance to read The Daily Links, you've probably noticed me linking to a website called MLSReserves.com. It's one of the MLS-themed websites that I make sure to check in on almost every day.
Luke Lohr is the founder and senior writer for MLSReserves.com, and he was nice enough to take some time to talk to The Daily Wiz about Sporting Kansas City's off-season, the recent USMNT call ups for Teal Bunbury, Graham Zusi, and CJ Sapong, as well as potential MLS expansion, which we have covered extensively here.
If you are looking for a great MLS website, I'd definitely suggest checking out Luke's website. It's one of the best out there.
As always, a big thank you to Luke for taking the time to share his thoughts.
The Daily Wiz- Sporting Kansas City players Teal Bunbury, Graham Zusi, and CJ Sapong were recently called up for Jurgen Klinsmann's "Camp Cupcake." What are your thoughts on the potential prospects of each of these players in regards to the USMNT?
Luke Lohr- All three players exhibit poise and athleticism on the ball. Each one has their own individual talents that make them an asset on the field. Bunbury and Sapong are both attackers, but bring different things to the table, which is a very good thing for Sporting KC. In the case of Zusi, his on field awareness is what is so impressive. He has that extremely dangerous shot from distance, which has punished several teams, but ultimately his greatest weapon is how he reads the game. It's allowed him to see those strikes from range, to know where to be to pick up a rebound and to insert himself in the right positions to shut down opposing teams. Zusi is easily one of the more underrated players in the league.
As for each of these players contributing to the national team, it's hard to say. At the moment the US Men's National Team is in a state of flux. We're currently in a process where players are learning what it is that Jurgen Klinsmann wants to see and just as importantly Klinsmann is learning what his players can and cannot do. Klinsmann has said on more than one occasion that he wants to help create an identity or style for this squad. I'd say if that comes to fruition, it only benefits the SKC players. Sporting is an attacking side where players are encouraged to get down the field and make things happen, so players are accustomed to that. Still, I'd hesitate to place any of the three on the 'A' team or even full 'B' at the moment. Each has the potential, but crowded positions and uncertainty over what is truly needed/wanted work against them.
At present they need to keep doing what their doing. They've all got the talent, it's just a matter of fitting into the system.
The Daily Wiz- Sporting KC were able to make it to the Eastern Conference Final in 2011, but ultimately fell short in their quest for the MLS Cup. What are your overall thoughts on Sporting, and what do you think they need to do in the off season to take the next step?
Luke Lohr- One of the best things about Sporting Kansas City's run was how magically it coincided with their stadium and re-branding. The boys in blue were dealt a tough hand with a ten game road stretch at the beginning of the season. I spoke with several SKC players throughout the season and each looked back at that road stretch as extremely trying but also important to the bonding of the squad. You have to wonder if that time on the road together didn't make the core group stronger and allow them to truly flex their muscles in the league once they were back at home.
Sporting plays in a world class facility. What's most important about that is how players, coaches, fans and management now demand that they produce a quality product on and off the field in order to support that investment. Already the coaches are taking steps to ensure the stability of the team by scouting new players, such as a replacement for Omar Bravo. It's important that the team builds depth in the back as well.
The model for success (on field and off) in Major League Soccer is changing. Some teams have already figured out what that model is while others are playing catch-up. Sporting KC is on the right path at the moment, though they do need a worthwhile DP to replace Bravo. The entire organization has bought into the idea of "Sporting" and they've done a great job owning that title. Still, there is more to be done. Thus far it seems as though they're on the right track.
The Daily Wiz- Over here at our website we've been talking quite a bit about MLS expansion, and what city the 20th team will call home when that day finally comes. Are you a supporter of continued expansion in MLS, or do you feel like MLS should stop at 20 teams? Any cities other than New York that you feel have a legitimate chance to claim that 20th team?
Luke Lohr- Make no mistake, Don Garber wants that twentieth team to be in New York. He's not alone in that desire and there are certainly positive statistics to support his reasoning. That does not necessarily mean that team will be the Cosmos, who are a mess at the moment. I'm in the camp that MLS should be continue to cautiously expand until the 22nd team and at the point, wait a bit for the sake of marketing and stability. Some argue that too much expansion will cause the talent pool to dilute. I no longer buy into that.
Now that teams are developing their own academies and professional soccer is expanding through MLS, NASL and the USL, we're seeing more and more markets tapped for talent. Most importantly though, as a country we're now better able to identify that talent at a younger age. It's that which will balance out any concerns with expanding beyond the talent pool. North America is a huge continent with athletes galore. We'll be ok if we expand to 22 or even 24.
As for potential cities, I've gone on record as saying that the best chance MLS has for success in the southeast at the moment is Orlando. What they've done there in a short time is encouraging. In a few years time, there is no reason why MLS cant be successful there, particularly with fantastic fan support already in place. Look at the Sons of Ben. They existed before the Union did and it was their efforts that helped persuade Garber and MLS to come to Philadelphia.
Other potential targets include Carolina and Charleston. Both have a decent system in place on which to build. The Raleigh location is one I've looked into extensively as a result of the Railhawks. There's a fantastic potential there, though it's quite a ways off from being realized. Major League Soccer has too much on its plate at the moment with troubles in DC and selecting a 20th team. As always there's work to be done, but MLS is doing it right.