Seattle, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - Sporting Kansas City will begin its MLS Cup defense on Saturday when it heads to CenturyLink Field to face Seattle Sounders FC.
Kansas City hoisted the Philip F. Anschutz trophy in December after edging Real Salt Lake on penalties for its second MLS Cup crown in club history.
Sporting has been able to maintain much of its title-winning roster ahead of the new season, but its inclusion in the CONCACAF Champions League means that it will face the challenge of having to contend in multiple competitions and balance a dense fixture list.
"I do like the group that we have," Sporting head coach Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com during the offseason. "It never means that it's set, by any means. But I also think, with the fact that we are playing the competitions we're in, and how fast we have to get ready for Champions League, we need to have consistency in our group. I think that's an important aspect going forward."
Sporting's most notable additions have been goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum and Sal Zizzo. Gruenebaum replaces Jimmy Nielsen following his retirement at the conclusion of last season. Zizzo, who arrived at Sporting in a trade with the Portland Timbers, has Vermes buzzing about his potential contributions to the team.
"He's going to fit into the way we play really well, and I'm not even talking about the goals," Vermes said after a preseason training session. "He's an exceptional winger. He's got a great attitude. He's got a good mind for the game, and he's definitely going to be a good addition to our team."
Seattle should provide Sporting with a stern test to open the season.
The Sounders are perennial contenders and figure to be once again, even though they faded down the stretch last season. Following a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Sept. 8, Seattle embarked on a franchise-worst seven-game winless streak that included a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids followed by a 4-1 defeat against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at home.
That run of poor form could be attributed to Seattle's mid-season roster shuffle, which saw the club add United States international Clint Dempsey.
The Sounders haven't stopped that rebuilding process in the offseason as they replaced striker Eddie Johnson with Kenny Cooper in addition to signing midfielder Marco Pappa.
"Marco is a proven and established player who has been very productive in this league," Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson said. "He has the technical quality to create chances for himself and his teammates at any moment, and is a high-character guy who brings excitement and quality to our midfield."