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Breaking Down the Sporting Kansas City Payroll and the Summer Transfer Window

A look at Sporting Kansas City's 2016 payroll.

Will salary budget realities force a rebuild for this year's Sporting team?
Will salary budget realities force a rebuild for this year's Sporting team?
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The summer transfer window officially opened this week--that it hadn't was part of the reason, for instance, that we did not see newly-signed Honduran left back Ever Alvarado in the gameday 18 for the dramatic 3-2 victory against Colombus.

Although Peter Vermes has generally not shown a track record of expecting summer window acquisitions to be immediate contributors (such as Oriol Rosell, who got a half season of learning alongside Julio Cesar), the summer window players who were expected to be contributors--such as Jeferson and Jorge Claros--often ended up being tremendous disappointments. For that fact alone, I honestly do not expect Sporting to be especially active this summer, at least in seeking out players who should be expected to immediately step into the gameday 18.

There is another factor to my belief that Sporting will not be huge players in the summer transfer market, though: the club's current payroll.

First, a primer: for 2016, each team has a $3.6 million salary cap. Up to three Designated Players automatically count against that cap to the tune of $457,500, and other players with similarly high salaries must have their cap hits taken down to that level or lower by means of mechanisms such as general allocation money, targeted allocation money, monopoly money, "retention funds" and so on.

Finally, the salary cap only applies to the twenty highest-paid players on any club's 28-player roster; those twenty are referred to as the "senior roster." While I am sure there are additional factors involved, owing to MLS's opacity, it is difficult to say exactly what they are. You can read their published rules here.

So here are the twenty senior roster players and the cap space they take up on the basis of their base wages, in order of biggest to smallest cap hit (per the MLS Players Union figures that were released earlier this year):

Matt Besler: $457,500*

Dom Dwyer: $457,500**

Roger Espinoza: $457,500**

Graham Zusi: $457,500*

Benny Feilhaber: $400,000

Brad Davis: $355,000

Nuno Andre Coelho: $275,000

Paulo Nagamura: $225,000

Justin Mapp: $224,070

Soni Mustivar: $200,000

Chance Myers: $200,000

Diego Rubio: $200,000

Tim Melia: $150,000

Jacob Peterson: $137,750

Bernardo Anor: $132,624****

Ike Opara: $125,000

Lawrence Olum: $105,000

Seth Sinovic: $105,000

Jon Kempin: $82,750

Kevin Ellis: $72,000

*Besler and Zusi's base salaries both exceed $457,500, but as Designated Players, they carry an automatic cap hit of the maximum $457,500

**Dwyer and Espinoza's base salaries both exceed $457,500, and are presumably paid down with either general allocation money or targeted allocation money to prevent them from taking up a precious Designated Player spot on the senior roster.

****Anor is on loan to NASL side Minnesota United FC for the 2016 year, but with no clear publicized indication of how much of his salary, if any, MUFC are picking up, I'm erring on the side of caution and including his entire salary for the purposes of this exercise. It also isn't a good testament to SKC's payroll management that one of its fifteen highest-paid players is on a season-long loan to a lower league side.

Right away, there are several worrisome signs that jump out from that list. I'm an unabashed fan of both Justin Mapp and Paulo Nagamura (and I in fact advocated for the Sporks to sign Mapp this offseason), but the fact remains that the club is shelling out nearly $550,000 for what has so far been a total of 210 minutes of game time combined from both players--that's positively Lampard-esque in terms of bang-for-buck.

(However, I would also maintain that Mapp's absence from the field in particular is a bigger indictment of the training staff than of the front office. Turf toe, the injury which Mapp picked up in preseason, is ordinarily a minor injury that takes weeks, not months, to heal, yet Mapp always seemed like he was never quite fit. And considering this is an injury unrelated to his previous major injuries, it does not speak well of the job the trainers did in taking so long to get him back to match readiness.)

More to the point, though, is that Sporting is drawing on outsized contributions from some of its minimum-level wage earners who do not even appear on the senior roster list--Saad Abdul-Salaam and Jimmy Medranda in particular--while players at higher wage levels like Seth Sinovic have rarely seen the field.

On the other side of the spectrum is Nuno Andre Coelho, who has to be considered the runaway favorite for Newcomer of the Year. When healthy, he has proved to be worth every penny of his $275,000 base salary, and now that he is back practicing, hopefully he can slot right back in next to either Opara or Besler, and Sporting fans can rest easier knowing that the possibility of seeing Olum and Medranda on the same side of the defense again has been made that much more unlikely.

But what about the bottom line? The combined cap hits of the twenty players presumably on Sporting's "senior roster" add up to $4,706,694, meaning that in terms of raw data, Sporting is already over $1.1 million above the league salary cap, indicating that they are likely having to use significant amounts of allocation funds just to remain compliant, never mind to add any new recruits.

This may well be (at least in part) why Quintilla was let go--$100,000 is a lot to spend on a midfielder who fell off the depth chart at SPR, and while I disagree with the decision to release Jordi (in no small part because there is probably significantly more money to save with roster cuts elsewhere), if Sporting were looking to pare down some salary and keep an international roster spot in reserve, then Quintilla had to be shown the door.

Quintilla's departure may well portend further movement down the line--not necessarily during this transfer window, but surely during the winter one. If Sporting go a third consecutive season of one-and-out playoff performances (or end up missing the playoffs altogether, a very real possibility), then budgetary sacrifices more substantial than Jordi Quintilla's 100K wages will have to be made to the club's payroll.

Because ultimately, the future of Sporting Kansas City is being laid bare: an aging and increasingly expensive core whose window is rapidly closing, surrounded by similarly aging role players with outsized salaries relative to their younger and more relied-upon counterparts (for an article specifically on this concern, I highly recommend R.J.'s take here).

Peter Vermes has his work cut out for him. While he tends not to be terribly active in the summer window (the bringing in of someone like Oriol Rosell aside--and even then, Uri wasn't expected to contribute right away), Vermes has to know that the writing is on the wall for his club and that numerous changes will need to be made--and soon. For the window on this club's current core is rapidly beginning to close, and if Vermes is to stave off the most painful parts of the inevitable rebuilding effort, he will have to act with haste.