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Individual improvements bode well for Sporting

It’s been exactly three months, three weeks and a day since Sporting Kansas City finished its 2012 season.

In that time, there have been changes to the roster and the team has had the opportunity to grow together through its preseason training – spending ten days in Tucson, Ariz. and three weeks in Orlando, Fla. before kicking off it’s season tomorrow afternoon in Philadelphia.

Sporting signed eight new players since the end of last season and lost a few familiar faces, but the team chemistry remains very much intact and players continue to step up their game.

Here’s a look at who a few Sporting KC players have dubbed ‘most improved’ since the 2012 season.

“So far I’ve been really impressed with Paulo Nagamura,” defender Matt Besler said. “He’s been a starter though, so I don’t know if he’s the most improved, but he’s really taken his game to another level. His leadership is really good and I think he’s looked really sharp this preseason.”

Forward C.J. Sapong also chose a starter from last year’s squad as his pick for most improved.

“If it’s even possible, I would say (Graham) Zusi,” Sapong said. “He’s just playing at another level and he’s getting in a form that’s just ridiculous. For the player that he has been and what he’s done for us, now you’re seeing him being more confident and predatory when he gets in front of the goal. It’s scary, not for me, but for the other team. He’s been on another level.”

Zusi said over the offseason he did spend a lot of time working on strength training and getting stronger and more explosive on the field, but his thoughts on most improved go to defender Kyle Miller.

“I think Kyle Miller has (improved the most),” Zusi said. “He had a very good off season, I worked out with him quite a bit. He came in very fit and is playing very well right now. He’s come in very well for us.”

As for goalkeeper Eric Kronberg, he said he has seen the biggest step up from midfielder Oriol Rosell. The 20-year-old made his debut with Sporting KC on August 11th and went on to score the game-winning goal in just his second appearance.

“Rosell is coming in very sharp,” Kronberg said. “He ended the season very well last year, but I think he’s really grown as a player. He’s very comfortable with the ball and his style fits the way we play. He’s going to be a very good player for us this year.”

But for Sporting KC defender Chance Myers and captain Jimmy Nielsen, choosing just one guy on a squad full of new faces was difficult.

“The new guys,” Myers said. “Obviously there are established veterans who’ve played on big teams and played a lot of minutes, but a lot of the young guys played a lot of minutes in the preseason and it’s always valuable for them to play with guys on the first team to help them grow. So a lot of the young guys progressed really well.”

Nielsen agreed that the new players on the Sporting KC roster have played a key role in the team’s preseason growth.

“The new guys add to the team,” Nielsen said. “We had a lot of fun and we worked very hard in the preseason, and we are ready for the season to start now.”