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MEET THE NEW GUYS
Jimmy Nielsen retired. Sporting traded Teal Bunbury and released little-used reserves Kyle Miller and Brendan Ruiz. And trades brought two new faces to the team.
Gruenebaum comes to Kansas City from Columbus, Ohio, where he had a strong year as starting goalkeeper in 2012. His performance that season was overshadowed a bit by not having a good team in front of him. He still managed to be among the league's top goalkeepers that season. Things didn't go quite so well last year. Injuries sidelined Gruenebaum for several games late in the season, and Columbus management figured that the Blue Valley North High School graduate was expendable and traded him to Sporting for a second-round pick in the 2016 MLS draft. Gruenebaum should see some action in U.S. Open Cup play and could take over for projected starting goalkeeper Eric Kronberg should he struggle.
Sporting KC plucked Zizzo in a swap with the Portland Timbers, trading cash for the well-traveled midfielder. Zizzo saw limited field time last season due to injury and fell out of favor with Portland's new coach and playing style. The speedy Zizzo will have to fight for minutes with Sporting, a team with established midfielders Graham Zusi, Paulo Nagamura and Benny Feilhaber.
REPEAT? IT WON"T BE EASY
Can Sporting keep the MLS Cup in Kansas City? It's a strong team for a repeat, but history isn't kind to defending MLS champions. Since the league started in 1996, only D.C. United, Houston Dynamo and the L.A. Galaxy have claimed back-to-back championships. Here's a look at how the last five MLS Cup champions fared a year later.
2008: Columbus Crew
Columbus looked primed for another trophy, finishing 2009 with the best record in the league. But the Crew suffered a stunning first-round playoff loss to eventual champion Real Salt Lake.
2009: Real Salt Lake
Like Columbus, Real Salt Lake had a strong regular season after its 2009 MLS Cup victory. Also like Columbus, Real Salt Lake suffered a first-round playoff upset to FC Dallas, which would advance to the championship game but lose to the Colorado Rapids.
2010: Colorado Rapids
Colorado's championship victory followed an unremarkable regular season. The team got hot in the playoffs and claimed the cup. The following season was another milquetoast campaign, but the Rapids made the playoffs and beat Columbus in the first round before losing a two-game playoff series to Sporting KC.
2011: L.A. Galaxy
A formidable Galaxy squad defended its title in 2012, beating the Houston Dynamo for the second time in as many years. It was the MLS swan song for international star David Beckham. It was also a rare repeat championship in MLS history.
2012: L.A. Galaxy
The Galaxy didn't have Beckham in 2013 but still had a solid team that finished behind Real Salt Lake and Portland in the Western Conference standings. Real Salt Lake knocked the L.A. Galaxy out of the playoffs in the second round and went on to lose to Sporting in the championship game.