Sporting Kansas City has made a number of changes to their roster over the offseason. One thing that hasn't changed: This team is incredibly talented and, honestly, the best team in MLS—in my opinion, they are the favorites to win the 2013 MLS Cup.
You're probably thinking that I'm biased toward my hometown club. Let's look at the facts, shall we?
Sporting KC has won the regular season title in the Eastern Conference each of the last two seasons. If not for a poor performance in their first playoff match last season, they may have made the MLS Cup final last season, all other things being equal.
The club is also the reigning U.S. Open Cup champion, having won the title in a thriller over the Seattle Sounders last August.
Their league-leading defense remains intact. Goalkeeper of the Year Jimmy Nielsen and Defender of the Year Matt Besler return to lock down opposing forwards.
Besler, who signed a new contract over the break, has been getting some national team attention. He played all 90 minutes of the scoreless draw against Canada in January.
Honduran international Roger Espinoza may have left for Wigan Athletic on a free transfer, but the club has his replacement in Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber, obtained in a trade with the New England Revolution, was also called in to Camp Cupcake.
Veteran midfielder Julio Cesar, now with Toronto FC, was allowed to leave, but the club believes Spaniard Oriol Rosell will grow into a younger version of Cesar. Obtained from Barcelona last summer, Rosell played all 90 minutes of the 1-0 home win over Houston in last season's playoffs.
Another reason for optimism is the play of Peterson Joseph, also referred to as the Haitian Xavi. Formerly of Sporting de Braga in Portugal, Joseph featured in 10 matches in the 2012 regular season, starting four times.
While forward Kei Kamara, the club's leading scorer in 2012, is currently on loan to Norwich City FC in the English Premier League, manager Peter Vermes is not without options up front. 2011 Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong is just one of the goal scorers Vermes can call on.
Kamara's potential departure may have been one reason forward Claudio Bieler was signed as the fourth DP in club history in December. Bieler scored 20 goals in 36 matches for LDU Quito, helping the club clinch a spot in the Copa Libertadores with a third-place finish in the Ecuadoran first division.
Teal Bunbury should be back soon from a season-ending knee injury suffered on August 26. Young forward Soony Saad and 2012 first-round SuperDraft pick Dom Dwyer will also try to make Vermes' job that much more difficult.
MVP finalist Graham Zusi, who led MLS in assists with 15 in 2012, has also been known to put the ball in the net himself on occasion.
Keeping in mind the fact they will start CONCACAF Champions League play in August, Sporting KC also made changes that increased the depth of talent available.
Defender Ike Opara and defender/midfielder Josh Gardner, obtained from San Jose and Montreal, respectively, will add depth, as will Yann Songo'o. If that last name seems familiar, his brother Franck plays for Portland.
And last, but certainly not least, midfielder Mikey Lopez, off with the US U-20 MNT for World Cup qualifying, will begin the work of learning the way Sporting KC plays when he returns from Mexico.
Vermes, selected to coach the MLS squad in this summer's All-Star game to be held at Sporting Park, is another reason this team should be considered favorites to win the MLS Cup. His determination to simply focus on the next 45 minutes of play does not let the team get too high after a win or too low after a loss.
Now, I could be wrong about all of this, but having been around these guys enough over the last couple of years, I don't think I am. These guys are hungry to prove they can win titles. On Saturday, they will begin to try to do just that when they kick off the 2013 campaign in Philadelphia.
Do you agree with me or do you think I'm just full of it? Let me know what you think down in the comments.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!