Sporting KC look to 2015 with optimism after tough 2014 season

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – Sporting Kansas City entered 2014 with expectations they could duplicate their double-winning 2013 season. Reality wound up being far different.

Despite leading in the Supporters' Shield race well into the summer, Sporting limped to the end of the season, finishing in the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and losing their Knockout-Round playoff game, while also falling short in defending their US Open Cup title.

What caused the late collapse? Star players Dom Dwyer and Graham Zusi spoke on Tuesday at MLS media day about two main factors, fatigue and injuries, that led to the disappointing finish.

“It wasn’t the right ending for us,” Dwyer told assembled reporters. ”We were top of the league, on our way, and everything sort of fell apart. We didn’t really know where it came from, and I think it was just tiredness and a few things didn’t fall our way, and we had a bunch of injuries.”

Zusi agreed, though he also said he believed Sporting became “a little bit complacent.”

“I’m going to be completely honest with you: I think it was a long season for everyone," Zusi said. "The injury situation is a big part of that, because you’re throwing players in there who, to be honest, might not have seen the field but had to step up and, to their credit, did very well. But I’m not sure the bodies we had out there, including my own, were ready for that kind of commitment.”

Although Sporting have had a few months to recuperate from the long season, they are not completely out of the woods as far as injuries, with Zusi still suffering from a stress reaction on his right foot that first appeared in October. The US international, who is missing the USMNT training camp this month as a result of the injury, admitted the stress reaction was “lingering” and he has been “pretty limited in what I can do” during the offseason.

While Zusi may be working his way back to full fitness, Dwyer is coming off a career year in which he scored 22 league goals and 24 in all competitions, breaking Kansas City’s single-season scoring records in the process. Having signed a new deal in the offseason, the 24-year-old is prepared to take the mantle of being Kansas City’s primary scoring option.

“I sort of like the responsibility,” the striker said. “I like to be the guy who the team looks for to score goals. If we lose, then I’ll take the blame, and if we win, we win as a team. But I’m happy with that responsibility. That’s the role I want.”

Neither Zusi nor Dwyer appear concerned by the move to the reputedly tougher Western Conference for 2015.

“I’d say the teams are probably stronger in the West," Dwyer said. "For me, that’s exciting; I want to play against the best teams and the best players."