The preseason marches on Wednesday evening for Sporting Kansas City as the two-time defending regular season Eastern Conference champions take on one of their more likely challengers for the 2013 crown, D.C. United, in their second game of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando, Fla. (5 p.m. CT, streaming live on TheDailyWiz.com)
With only two preseason games to follow that on Wednesday, Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes will look to turn things up one more notch following Saturday's 2-1 loss to Montreal Impact. Despite the final score, the were plenty of positives to take from Saturday's performance, particularly the first 60 minutes in which 10 of 11 regular starters featured for Sporting KC.
Midfielder Graham Zusi scored the lone Sporting goal in his preseason debut, and was easily the standout player of the afternoon. Defender Matt Besler and midfielder Benny Feilhaber also made their first appearances of the preseason, each looking in fine form following a month's time spent in United States national team training camp.
D.C. United finished the 2012 regular season second place in the Eastern Conference, five points behind Sporting KC, following a late season surge that saw them climb the standings from near-playoff miss to first-place challengers. The most impressive part of that rise, though, was undoubtedly the fact United found its finest stretch of results after their star player, midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, was lost for the remainder of the regular season with a knee injury.
Then-rookie Nick DeLeon stepped in a big way for United, contributing 6 goals and 4 assists in his first season as a professional, as well as the since-departed Maicon Santos (now with Chicago Fire) who scored 7 goals in 26 games for United in 2012. But, the unquestionable star of United last year was, and will be once again, is Chris Pontius.
Pontius not only scored 12 goals and assisted on 4 others, but stepped up as an important leader for United after De Rosario went down in September. Pontius signed a new contract in the offseason that will keep him in the nation's capital for years to come. Pontius should be available for selection by D.C. head coach Ben Olsen, as should De Rosario who played for Canada in the friendly against Besler, Zusi and Feilhaber's U.S. team in January.
The questions surrounding Sporting KC as the 2013 season inches closer are few and far between, with the status of starting leftback Chance Myers the only question at the moment. Myers was injured in the first half of a preseason game almost two weeks ago now, and did not play Saturday against Montreal. Trialist Mechack Jerome - from USL Pro partner club Orlando City SC - started in Myers' place.
New Designated Player, forward Claudio Bieler, will be the other Sporting player to keep an eye on as he works towards greater match fitness and integration into his new squad. Bieler started each of the last two games, playing 30 and 60 minutes in each, respectively. The speed with which the Argentine-born Ecuadorian fits into the team will be important for Sporting's early season successes in the absence of Kei Kamara, who lead the team in scoring for three straight years.
Projected lineup (4-3-3): Nielsen - Jerome, Collin, Besler, Sinovic - Rosell, Zusi, Feilhaber - Sapong, Bieler, Convey