With the announcement of Sporting Kansas City’s roster moves on Monday, the thing that stuck out to many was the players who’s contract options had been declined and/or picked up for the 2018 season. The thing people may not have noticed was how many of the “core” group of guys are out of contracts after 2018. Guys like Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi, Seth Sinovic, and even Tim Melia are all currently out of contract after 2018. This bodes the question, is this the last year for this group of guys?
You look at this group and how much they’ve accomplished at the club. They’ve accomplished a lot over the years and I’m sure everyone has a favorite memory or moment that they remember involving that player. However, the hard truth is that when the 2018 MLS season starts all of these guys will be over 31. Combine that with the fact that in the past four seasons Sporting KC hasn’t made it out of the knockout round, one has to wonder is this the last hoorah for this core?
But is it really the last year worth keeping these guys together?
The defense allowed the fewest goals allowed this season of any team in the league. You add on top of that Graham Zusi and Seth Sinvoic combining for 10 assists this MLS season (while Benny just had three) and you’ve got a really solid backline that I definitely think is worth running out again even if their better years are behind them.
At the same time there needs to be some integration of youth. With guys like Amer Didic, Saad Abdul-Salaam, or even Jimmy Medranda waiting in the wing there’s no reason why they can’t each start 12 to 15 games to give these older guys some rest. If SKC truly wants to get the most out of this older core than there has to be some rest.
If you look at Feilhaber and Espinoza. Personally I think Espinoza was a little off for most of this season. I don’t know that he ever really found his touch and that can be multiple things.
People want to rag on Feilhaber for a down year, but look who he had in front of him. Halfway through the season his striker leaves, and he’s playing with a striker he really hasn’t had a string of games to get in any sort of form prior to this season. He then has a winger who’s never been a goal scorer and is signed as a Designated Player and asked to score goals. His other two winger options are a couple 20-year-old kids who haven’t played in MLS prior to the season. Moral to the story, Benny wasn’t truly set up for a season where he has 10+ assists. And the statistics support that.
@BlueTestamentKC Benny Feilhaber had a really good year; his assists didn't show it because he finishers had a terrible conversion rate for him - worse than any other player on this list.— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) November 28, 2017
As for the answer to the original question on whether this year is make or break, I would say more or less it is. I don’t think there’s anyway Besler or Melia are gone after the season despite their expiring contracts. Graham will likely have to take a pay cut following 2018 ($725,000 for a right back just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense), and Sinovic will likely slowly be fazed out but his simplistic “stay at home” style will probably allow him to have two more good years.
As for Benny and Roger, the pressure will almost certainly be on. I don’t think it’s fair to put the blame on Feilhaber for SKC’s goal scoring woes, but as an experienced #10 he’s got to find a way to get the job done in 2018.
No matter whether 2018 is the final season for this core I don’t think that there’s any doubt that four trophies in six years makes this grou a success.