By JOSE M. ROMERO
PHOENIX — No MLS team will spend more time in the desert than Sporting KC, around four weeks in all.
That's OK, because the newly-branded club (formerly the Kansas City Wizards) could use the "on the road" experience to prepare for the MLS regular season, when it will play its first nine or 10 games away from home before opening its new 18,500-seat soccer-specific stadium in June.
SKC has plenty to be excited about with the new stadium and a talented striker combination in young Teal Bunbury and veteran Kei Kamara. A mix of returning players and the potential addition of some solid international talent, and things appear to be looking up in the heartland.
The team is talking like it believes this could be a special year. There's talk of trophies, but first, a two-year playoff drought must be ended.
Here's a closer look at the Sporting KC's preseason in Arizona:
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Length of stay: Jan. 31-Feb. 15, Feb. 21-March 3 at Reach 11 complex (North Phoenix); March 4-6 in Tucson (preseason games).
Tentative training game/scrimmage schedule: Feb. 5 vs. Columbus, Feb. 12 vs. Colorado, Feb. 15 vs. Houston and U.S. MNT U-18, Feb. 26 vs. Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact, March 5 vs. New York Red Bulls in Tucson.
Key Arrivals: F Omar Bravo, M Luke Sassano, F C.J. Sapong.
Key Departures: D Jimmy Conrad, F Josh Wolff.
What to watch for: A lot of eyes will be on Kamara and Bunbury, but the Wizards also have to address some lost depth on defense after Jonathan Leathers was lost in the expansion draft. Sassano is coming off an ankle injury from last season. Bravo, a veteran of El Tri (Mexican national team), is another one to watch, as well as the interesting mix of rookie draft picks. Keep an eye on a guy who has impressed in camp prior to the team's departure to Arizona, wing Adda Djeziri.
Of note: Sporting KC, in addition to its games against MLS teams and USMNT U-18s, will play an intrasquad scrimmage on Feb. 9 and face local club Arizona Sahuaros in Tucson March 4… The club's time at Reach 11 coincides with baseball's Kansas City Royals annual spring training in Surprise, Ariz., not more than a half-hour to the west on the freeway.