Extreme Makeover: Kansas City Wizards edition.
No, it's not a new television series. It's what happened to the roster of the third-worst team in the league during the 2009 season.
Many of the team's stalwarts are still in place, but Kevin Hartman, Herculez Gomez and Claudio Lopez are not. A slew of new players have been brought in to jump-start this squad guided by Peter Vermes, who dropped the interim-coach tag in the offseason.
The team has seemingly taken a strength-in-numbers approach, bringing in nine (and counting) players to, among other things, beef up the midfield and forward positions that sorely lacked a punch last season. Only the New York Red Bulls scored fewer goals in 2009, so the moves were definitely warranted. But will they pay off? The answer to that question will be the reason that Kansas City either makes a postseason run or finishes near the bottom of the table again.
Here is a look at the 2010 Kansas City Wizards:
2010 KANSAS CITY WIZARDS
Players to Watch – Jimmy Nielsen, Kei Kamara, Josh Wolff, Davy Arnaud, Jimmy Conrad, Jack Jewsbury
Key Arrivals – Jimmy Nielsen, Teal Bunbury, Pablo Escobar, Stephane Auvray, Craig Rocastle, Ryan Smith, Igor Kostrov, Birahim Diop
Key Departures – Kevin Hartman, Herculez Gomez, Claudio Lopez, Adam Cristman
Projected Lineup (New starters in bold)
———————-Davy Arnaud——–Josh Wolff—————————
——Ryan Smith————————————–Kei Kamara————-
——————-Stephane Auvray———Jack Jewsbury——————
Roger Espinoza—-Pablo Escobar—–Jimmy Conrad——–Chance Myers
Biggest Question – Will the roster overhaul improve the offense?
Kansas City's inability to score last season was a serious problem, and if the newest members of the team can't help rectify that issue, then the team will continue to disappoint. However, there's reason to think that the team will score with greater proficiency this season.
Smith and Kamara performed well in the preseason, and the team drafted Bunbury (whose father, Alex, played for the team in 1999 and 2000) in the first round because of his finishing ability.
Kamara, playing in his first full season with the team, has the most upside out of the bunch and could be in for a breakout year with the right service from the modified midfield. Kansas City's attack is full of "ifs" and "coulds," which isn't a bad thing… IF hopes come to fruition.
X-Factor – Kamara/Jimmy Nielsen
As stated above, Kamara realizing his potential would pay great dividends for Kansas City's attack. While the defense isn't as much in question with Conrad and Escobar providing a strong duo in the middle, the team did alter the backbone of the unit.
Nielsen comes with a strong pedigree, but he'll replace Kevin Hartman, as close to a sure thing as there has been in goal in MLS. With Hartman now in Dallas, the spotlight will shine brightly on Nielsen to produce in between the pipes. If he cannot provide the kind of leadership and high-level play like Hartman did, the Wizards could suffer greatly.
Outlook - Last season's results not withstanding, this team actually looks pretty decent on paper. With all the unknowns on the roster it will be crucial for everyone to mesh with the long-standing veterans on the team like Arnaud, Wolff and Conrad. It may take time for roles to shake out and for chemistry to develop, but there is plenty of potential in the new signings.
If Vermes can work out all the kinks and a high percentage of the new signings pan out, then a run to the postseason would not be unexpected.