Goalkeepers Depth Chart: 1. Jimmy Nielsen, 2. Eric Kronberg, 3. Jon Kempin Strengths: Nielsen is a master of positioning, with quick reflexes if he gets caught out. Kronberg, despite being sidelined for four to six weeks with a lower back injury, is a No. 1 waiting to happen, either with Sporting or elsewhere. Weaknesses: If Nielsen goes down, Kronberg’s injury means that Kempin will be a teenager thrown into a position that rewards age and experience. Wildcard: This is Kronberg’s last contract year, unless Sporting picks up his option. Will he look to make a move somewhere else with Nielsen signed through 2013? READ: 2012 Sporting KC Preview Defense Depth Chart: LB 1. Seth Sinovic, 2. Korede Aiyegbusi; CB Aurélien Collin – Matt Besler, 2. Lawrence Olum, 3. Cyprian Hedrick; RB 1. Chance Myers, 2. Michael Harrington, 3. Kevin Ellis Strengths: Besler and Collin are a solid tandem in the middle. Myers and Sinovic are both capable of overlapping runs, and Myers has a right winger’s crossing ability. Weaknesses: Depth remains a question mark, especially in the middle. Sinovic had some problems last year, especially late in matches, with getting beaten at the byline. Wildcard: If Collin stays healthy and out of yellow-card trouble, this could be a monster season for the tough Frenchman. SEE: Preseason Schedule and Results Midfield Depth Chart: LCM 1. Roger Espinoza, 2. Michael Thomas, Luke Sassano; 3. Paulo Nagamura; CDM 1. Júlio César, 2. Paulo Nagamura, 3. Luke Sassano; RCM 1. Graham Zusi, 2. Konrad Warzycha, 3. Peterson Joseph Strengths: Sporting are deep and experienced at the defensive mid spot. Espinoza is still aggressive but playing smarter in the holding role. Zusi has emerged as a threat on free kicks and from just about anywhere from distance. Weaknesses: With no true distributing midfielder, the passing game can break down in the middle third. Wildcard: Nagamura will be expected to provide box-to-box depth, meaning he could slip into any of the midfield spots as either a sub or a starter. That puts pressure on him to connect quickly with the players around him. READ: Sporting KC 2011 season statistics Forwards Depth Chart: LF 1. Bobby Convey, 2. Jacob Peterson; CF 1. C.J. Sapong, 2. Teal Bunbury, 3. Soony Saad, 4. Dom Dwyer; RF 1. Kei Kamara, 2. Jacob Peterson Strengths: Sporting are loaded with quality at the center forward spot, meaning manager Peter Vermes can keep fresh legs in the attack. Convey is back at his natural spot on the left flank, happy to be there and motivated to prove that his old team was wrong to put him at left back. Kamara is dangerous both in wide areas and in the middle. Weaknesses: Convey is the only true left winger. Vermes must find a way to keep all of his talented target forwards engaged, which might mean a good deal of lineup shuffling. Wildcard: When he’s on, Bunbury has the ability to be both elegant and deadly. But when he isn’t, he struggles with first touches and creating space in the attacking third. Setting the Scene Vermes reacts after Eastern Conference final Sporting Kansas City are looking to continue their late-season surge from 2011, when they started awfully away from home but then came on late to finish atop the Eastern Conference and come within one game of their first MLS Cup appearance since 2004. This time, they won’t have to wait until midseason to play in the still-shiny Livestrong Sporting Park – but the most telling (and positive) sign is that with the exception of left winger Bobby Convey, the offseason acquisitions were designed to provide depth, not to fill glaring vacancies. The goal-scoring power should be there even after the departure of Omar Bravo, with 2011 Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong among a talented – and crowded – group of forwards. Sapong, forward Teal Bunbury and midfielder Graham Zusi all got national team call-ups during the offseason, with Zusi earning his first two career starts and scoring his second time out. If there is a question mark, it’s the issue of depth in the young backline. Team president Robb Heineman has declared that anything short of an MLS Cup appearance will not be considered successful, so the pressure is on to live up to Sporting’s considerable potential. BUY SPORTING KC TICKETS HERE In and Out IN: D Seth Sinovic (11/28: trade from Montreal); M Paulo Nagamura (11/29: trade from Chivas USA); M/D Bobby Convey (12/2: trade from San Jose); F Dom Dwyer (1/12: SuperDraft); D Cyprian Hedrik (1/12: SuperDraft); M Michael Thomas (1/18: Ljungskile SK/Sweden); F Jacob Peterson (1/19: free/San Jose Earthquakes) OUT: M Davy Arnaud (11/28: trade to Montreal); M Jéferson (11/23: waived); D Scott Lorenz (11/23: waived); M Craig Rocastle (11/23: waived); D Seth Sinovic (11/23: expansion draft) M Milos Stojcev (11/23: waived); F Omar Bravo (12/12: Cruz Azul/Mexico); D Shavar Thomas (12/12: option declined); M Daneil Cyrus (1/22: waived) READ: 2012 Sporting KC Depth Chart Star Attraction: Kei Kamara Kamara becomes leader in KC Kamara didn’t want to come to Kansas City when Houston traded him to the then-Wizards in September 2009 for Abe Thompson (Remember him? No? Exactly.) and allocation money. How things have changed since then for the Sierra Leone international. The forward is a fixture with his national team, a star for his club side and a big reason why Sporting expects to be in the MLS Cup final this year. Kamara’s flair and creativity in the attacking area don’t extend simply to shooting. He has a knack for the well-placed cross or the give-and-go, just as well as for a spectacular half-volley or bicycle kick. At 27, he is hitting his stride – and that’s sure to attract attention from European sides, so Sporting fans had better enjoy the show while it lasts. READ: SKC's Kamara still bitter over playoff loss to Houston Unsung Hero: Júlio César The well-traveled Brazilian carries a journeyman tag, sure – but he also brings a wealth of quiet assets to his spot in the defensive midfield. He’s a solid, steadying, hard-working presence in front of that young backline, and at 33 years old, has the experience and game smarts to know when to move forward. Also, the guy played for Real Madrid; he knows what it takes to play the game at the highest club level, and those sort of intangibles translate in training as well as on the field. Ready for Primetime: Aurélien Collin The physical central defender has become a fan favorite as much for his outsized personality as for his gritty play. Case in point, he suffered a serious back injury last year and still came back at the end of the season. Collin is at his best banging around with the opposition’s big guys, but is also surprisingly deft with his feet. If he can avoid discipline and injury problems this season, Collin and Matt Besler could give Sporting one of the league’s best center back pairings. READ: Countdown to First Kick: Collin's next challenge Storylines to Watch 1. Will there be enough action up front to go around? Young strikers Soony Saad and Dom Dwyer will be pushing hard to be in the offensive mix, along with proven scorers Sapong, Kamara and Bunbury. Jacob Peterson is hoping to reignite his career as well. Can manager Peter Vermes keep all of his forwards happy with playing time? 2. Who’s the man at center forward? Sapong was a super sub last year, but does his Rookie of the Year season – and Bunbury’s late preseason call-up to the US Olympic team – mean that Sapong will enter this season as the starter? 3. Who will be the team’s heart and soul? The players who have defined the club’s identity in seasons past are gone now, with Davy Arnaud the most recent to depart in the Expansion Draft. Who will step into that high-profile spot, either as captain or unofficial spokesman? READ: Countdown to First Kick: Zusi takes next step What He Said “Everybody’s focused and ready to rebuild off last season. We were pretty fit coming in last year, and for us to top that this year shows how focused and determined everybody is. We want to get to [MLS Cup] and win it.” – Sporting KC forward C.J. Sapong SEE: 2012 Season Preview Archive If Everything Goes Right: Sporting stayed in the Eastern Conference when Montreal moved up a level into MLS, so a regular-season conference championship isn’t out of the question – with or without a Designated Player. The regular season, though, is secondary to the club’s stated goal of reaching the MLS Cup Final. If everyone stays healthy, and there’s no playoff collapse, that’s where Sporting should end its season.