2013 was an unforgettable year for #SKCNation. From clinching a berth in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals to winning MLS Cup to hosting the MLS All-Star Game and U.S. Men's National Team at Sporting Park, 2013 provided lasting memories for the Sporting KC faithful.
But as the clock struck midnight, 2013 quickly became a year in the past and we now look ahead to 2014. So what's in store for this coming year? Here are 14 things (in no particular order) that Sporting KC fans should look forward to in 2014:
1. The quest for an MLS Cup repeat
Major League Soccer is a league of parity. Nine teams have won MLS Cup. 12 teams have participated in MLS Cup. In the League's 18-year history, three teams have repeated as MLS Cup champions (LA Galaxy, Houston Dynamo and D.C. United). Can Sporting KC make that four in 2014?
2. The journey through Champions League
No MLS team has ever won the CONCACAF Champions League. Sporting KC would love nothing more than to be the first. To do so, they will have to get through Mexican giant Cruz Azul in a two-legged quarterfinal series in March.
After Cruz Azul bombed out of the Apertura quarterfinals against fellow CCL member Toluca, their fans stormed the field. The team followed that with a mini spending spree, adding Mexican international striker Marco Fabian as well as a trio of MLS players (Rafael Baca, Jose Villarreal and Michael Farfan). Can Sporting KC break through against La Máquina Celeste and keep their FIFA Club World Cup dreams alive?
If the results don't go their way against Cruz Azul, Sporting KC will have another opportunity to represent MLS after earning a berth in the 2014-15 CCL group stage.
3. Open Cup glory
Sporting KC grabbed their first piece of hardware in almost a decade when they won the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The 2013 edition was not as kind to the defending champs, as USL PRO affiliate Orlando City SC came to town and pulled off the 1-0 upset at Sporting Park. Sporting KC will have another chance to win the longest running domestic soccer tournament in 2014.
4. Sporting KC reps at FIFA World Cup
Sporting KC defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi are well on their way to securing a place in Jurgen Klinsmann's squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Could they be joined by additional club teammates?
The USMNT will host their annual January camp this month in California. Did Benny Feilhaber do enough in 2013 to work his way back into the graces of Klinsmann? Did Seth Sinovic prove that he should be in the discussion for USMNT left backs? Is Chance Myers a candidate for the USMNT backline? Stay tuned.
5. Benny Feilhaber's next step
There is a reason Feilhaber was a mainstay on Bob Bradley's USMNT teams that advanced to the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup and the round of 16 of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The Brazilian-born midfielder is masterful on the ball and after a slow start to the 2013 season, played an integral role in Sporting KC advancing to MLS Cup.
With 2014 being a World Cup year, will Feilhaber take another step forward and cement himself as one of the top midfielders in MLS?
6. Emergence of Sporting KC youth
In 2013, Sporting KC became one of the youngest teams to win MLS Cup. With Oriol Rosell, Dom Dwyer and C.J. Sapong, Peter Vermes started three players in MLS Cup that were 23 years of age or younger. Add in Soony Saad, who set career highs across the board, as well as Ike Opara, who was a vital member of the backline, and Sporting KC has no shortage of young talent. Vermes will need that talent to take another step forward if the club hopes to repeat as champions in 2014.
7. Replacing the White Puma
He only played four years in Kansas City, but Jimmy Nielsen will go down in history as a Sporting Legend. Following a successful MLS Cup, the club captain announced his retirement, opening the door for a new starting goalkeeper in 2014.
Vermes has made it clear that longtime backup Eric Kronberg is his No. 1 goalkeeper heading into 2014. Vermes also added veteran goalkeeper and KC native Andy Gruenebaum in a trade from the Columbus Crew. Regardless of who takes hold of the position, the new goalkeeper will have to gel quickly with a backline that will take on Cruz Azul and the Seattle Sounders in early March.
8. New USL PRO affiliate in 2014
Speaking of Nielsen, the former Sporting KC captain was recently announced as head coach of new USL PRO club Oklahoma City Energy FC. In addition, Energy FC will join Orlando City SC as affiliate clubs of Sporting KC in 2014. Sporting KC will send at least two players on loan to each club for developmental purposes for the 2014 season. A 2013 loan did wonders for Dwyer, who could be in line for a loan in 2014?
9. New blood in Kansas City
Since MLS Cup, Vermes has added two new players to his squad: the aforementioned Gruenebaum and speedy winger Sal Zizzo. Since then, all has been quiet on the player movement front, but expect things to heat up as the club enters the 2014 season.
10. An important year for TV deals
2014 is an important year on the television front on both a local and national level. Locally, Sporting KC will welcome 38 The Spot as their new English broadcast partner. Nationally, MLS is in the last year of its TV deal with ESPN, NBC and Univision. With FOX Sports' recent rebrand and the emergence of beIN Sports, there are plenty of potential suitors to vie for MLS rights moving forward. The network(s) that decide to pony up the cash for MLS rights in 2015 and beyond will be making an important statement about the League's future.
11. Swope Soccer Village
Construction on Phase II of Swope Soccer Village's $13.44 million expansion began last month to prepare for the development of five new synthetic soccer fields. Located at 63rd and Lewis Rd. in Kansas City's Swope Park, the Swope Soccer Village will be home to nine full-sized soccer fields and facilities upon the project's completion in 2014.
Last May, a $13.44 million expansion to the Swope Soccer Village was formally approved by the City Council. Four months after breaking ground, the complex's natural grass championship field - the first of six new fields as part of the expansion - opened in November and hosted the 2013 Big 12 Soccer Championship. The conference's postseason tournament will again be played at the Swope Soccer Village in 2014.
12. New additions to Sporting Club Uphoria
If you haven't already downloaded Sporting KC's mobile app 'Sporting Club Uphoria' (iPhone | Android) you should get on it now. It's the premier gameday app across Major League Soccer and will have some new, exciting features coming in 2014.
13. 2014 will be a busy year for the city of Kansas City
Last month, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) awarded 14 men's and women's championships to the Kansas City area. In 2014, Sporting Park will host the Division II Football championshiop on Dec. 20, while Swope Soccer Village will host the Division III men's and women's soccer championships at Swope Soccer Village on Dec. 5-6.
14. New kit coming in 2014
Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman stated in a Reddit AMA that the club would introduce a new kit every year. With new primary and third kits unveiled in 2013, that leaves a new secondary kit for this year. After the massive success of the club's argyle kit, what does Sporting Style have in store for 2014?