(SportsNetwork.com) - For the first time since 2011 last year's Eastern Conference final did not include Sporting Kansas City. And with the club moving to the Western Conference in 2015, it won't this year either.
But in order for Sporting to bounce back after a disappointing end to the 2014 campaign, head coach Peter Vermes will need to rely on a few key newcomers to fill big roles in 2015.
One of those players is goalkeeper Luis Marin, a Chile international who joins Sporting in the hopes that he can become the solid presence in goal the club missed last season following the departure of Jimmy Nielsen.
Following Nielsen's retirement at the end of the 2013 season, Eric Kronberg, Andy Gruenebaum and Jon Kempin each made multiple appearances in goal for Sporting, with each struggling to provide the type of steadying influence Nielsen gave the team.
Vermes, however, thinks Marin has some of the qualities of his former netminder, and he is hopeful that the Chilean can solidify his place in the team.
"There's no doubt that Luis has strong leadership qualities," Vermes told MLSsoccer.com. "He's very demanding, which is a great quality to have within the team with any player, and especially in that position. He's also a really class guy, so he kind of backs it all up with the way he is off the field, which is great within the locker room. I think it all comes naturally for him. It's great, because I think we've added somebody that has a lot of the same characteristics as Jimmy had from that point of view."
If Marin can be the type of player Vermes hopes he is, he will provide a big boost to the defense, which lost one of its leaders in 2013 MLS Cup MVP Aurelien Collin, who was traded to Orlando City SC in a salary cap move.
The club acquired Jalil Anibaba and Canada international Marcel De Jong to help fill that role, but Collin's departure still leaves questions surrounding the back four, especially with Matt Besler returning from injury.
In midfield the club returns Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber after strong seasons, while it welcomes back Roger Espinoza after a two-year stint with Wigan in England.
Espinoza, along with Zusi and Feilhaber, give Sporting a formidable midfield, while the additions of Bernando Anor and Servando Carrasco give Vermes quality depth in that area.
Sporting will be strong going forward in the midfield, but the big question is who will replace Uri Rosell as the holding midfielder in front of the back four.
The departure of Rosell in midseason certainly had something to do with Sporting's struggles at the end of last season and the club is even weaker up the middle without Collin.
Dom Dwyer certainly made a name for himself last season by scoring 24 goals across all competitions and he could get some help from new signing Krisztian Nemeth, who netted eight goals with six assists for Roda in the Dutch Eredivisie last season.
If Nemeth can effectively partner Dwyer, Sporting has the chance to have a strong one-two punch up top, and one that will be well supported from the likes of Zusi, Espinoza and Feilhaber.
Better balance offensively could help Sporting avoid the type of collapse at the end of the last that cost the club another deep playoff run as the team won just two of its final 10 regular season games before going out to Red Bull New York in the knockout round.
There has been some considerable turnover at the club since then, but Dwyer is excited about the new faces that have joined the team.
"Obviously you make changes in football, people go on different adventures, but we have a lot of new guys coming in that are great additions. It's going to be a good side. We have so many players right now and so many options. It's exciting times ahead. We have guys who are expected to do well and we have guys coming out of nowhere who are doing well. So it's an exciting group to play with."
ADDITIONS: Bernardo Anor (M), Jalil Anibaba (D), Servando Carrasco (M), Krisztian Nemeth (F), Roger Espinoza (M), Luis Marin (GK).
LOSSES: Lawrence Olum (M), Soony Saad (F), Aurelien Colllin (D), C.J. Sapong (F), Sal Zizzo (M), Andy Gruenebaum (GK), Claudio Bieler (F).
OUTLOOK: The departure of Rosell was tough to deal with for Sporting last season, and it's no surprise the team began to fall apart defensively after he left for Sporting Lisbon. And when you take into account Collin's departure, this team could be a bit soft up the middle. If Nemeth can take some of the scoring load off of Dwyer it would improve Sporting's attack, while Espinoza will add to the already dangerous midfield duo of Zusi and Feilhaber. If Marin can come close to giving Sporting the kind of play in goal the club enjoyed with Nielsen, it will be a huge help, but it is also a lot to ask. Sporting won't be helped by a move to the tougher Western Conference as teams like Los Angeles, Seattle, Real Salt Lake and Vancouver figure to be strong postseason candidates. A playoff spot is certainly within reach, but don't expect much more with so many questions still looming around this team.