Now nearly two weeks removed from the club’s fourth first round playoff exit in four years we try — no we must — turn our attention to the offseason and with it the upcoming 2018 season. We must stop ourselves from the moping and blaming of how the team finds themselves in this position again and look towards a brighter tomorrow.
One place to look is at an exciting Swope Park Rangers team that will head to the USL Cup Final for a second straight season. But today, I’ll take a look at the midfielders on the roster, all of whom are under contract for 2018, and decide who stays and who goes.
Roger Espinoza - For much of 2017 I found myself really complaining about Espinoza. He looked a step slower and he had lots of bad touches. By the middle of the season that seemed like a distant memory (though those touches still cropped up). He is Sporting KC’s highest paid player ($850,000 guaranteed) and the team holds an option for him in 2018. Jimmy Medranda looks like his likely replacement but it feels like this core will stick together for at least one more year, even though I’m sure Espinoza’s salary will bump another $50,000 or so. That’s a lot to pay for a box-to-box midfielder who absolutely doesn’t score goals, but he’s probably got one more year at least.
Benny Feilhaber - I just wrote a story yesterday that he should be traded. He’s making $600,000 and his production took a nose dive in 2017 (just three assists). That may be easier said than done and the team has not yet signed a suitable #10 to take his spot, though CEO Robb Heineman has said they will. He is a fan favorite but paying for past performance instead of future performances is the biggest mistake in sports. If he’d take a pay cut I’d keep him for depth all day. I’m simply not sure why he’d want to do that though. There is always the possibility he gets sold overseas where he can make $600K (or more) as a backup.
Jimmy Medranda - He is the #8 of the future and until then he’ll do a little bit of everything. He is the primary backup for Espinoza, Feilhaber and at left back. He also has spent a decent amount of time as a winger. His ability to be serviceable at so many positions is incredibly valuable. He makes just over $130,000 and he is a steal at that price. I’d like to see him get a lot more minutes for Espinoza to see if he can be the box-to-box midfielder the team needs for the next chunk of years. No way he leaves.
James Musa - The New Zealand international moved up from the Swope Park Rangers during the summer as additional midfield depth and likely to reward his quality play for the Rangers. He started and played in just a single game but looked like he could hack it at the MLS level. He plays defensive midfielder and even took the primary backup spot from Soni Mustivar. He also has the ability to play center back and this team is suddenly lacking at that area with the departure of Erik Palmer-Brown and the likely departure of Kevin Ellis. He reminds me of Lawrence Olum in that he’s not going to ever be great but he’s good depth at both spots. He’s also really cheap ($65,004).
Soni Mustivar - What a shock 2017 had to be for Mustivar. He went from being the regular starter at defensive midfielder, the most important spot on the pitch, to barely getting on the field after Ilie arrived. While he had 14 appearances he only made two starts and 260 minutes all year. He was barely on the field after he cost Sporting a win against the Montreal Impact with an awful turnover and he currently makes $200,000. That’s not chump change for a backup who doesn’t play and seemed to be out of favor with Peter Vermes. He also occupies an international roster spot. Mustivar has the quality to start so he’d make a good expansion draft pick or trade bait in the coming weeks. I fully don’t expect to see him back in 2018.
Kevin Oliveira - Kevin O was one of the last additions of the 2017 season. He joined just before the roster freeze with Kharlton Belmar and had limited minutes. He looked lost on the field at times with the senior team but he’s also looked amazing at times with Swope Park. If nothing he is solid depth for 2018 and he should spend more time with SPR for additional seasoning. He is still very young (21-years-old) and looks to have the potential to be quite good. He came back to SPR in 2017 after a season ending knee injury and took time to find his form. For $65,004 he has to get his option picked up.
Ilie Sanchez - Tim Melia may have won the 2017 MVP award for the team but for me it’s all about Ilie. As Vermes said before the season, he’s Oriol Rosell 2.0. That’s high praise but Ilie delivered. He was a shield in front of the back four and a consistent reason this Sporting KC defense was one of the best in MLS history. At $305,000 he is a steal and he needs to be kept around for many years to come. Hopefully he’ll learn from the mistakes of players like Uri Rosell that the grass isn’t always greener in Europe. Ilie has been there and done that and he is the key to this team continuing to be stout defensively.
Outlook - The midfield for Sporting KC was really shallow in 2017. Considering Mustivar never played and Oliveira and Musa joined late in the year, the team essentially functioned with four players playing three spots. Oliveira and Musa will add much needed depth and Medranda should spell Espinoza more in 2018. Benny isn’t the answer at the #10 but that seems to be what this team really needs to have a great midfield next season. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to find another #8 type player for when Espinoza inevitably leaves in the coming year or years.
Help from Swope Park - Musa and Oliveira were the best midfielders on Swope and they could/should spend time with the Rangers in 2018. SPR also has Christian Duke, who has been an iron man but has had his chances with Sporting only to get cut. He seems unlikely to get called up again but it’s a possibility. The real options though are teenagers Felipe Hernandez and Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal. Both players could be senior team members in the future, though I don’t expect anything to happen this offseason. As they continue to grow they can look to fulfill Vermes’ dream of stocking SKC with former SKC Academy players.
Stay - Espinoza, Sanchez, Medranda, Musa, Oliveira, Feilhaber?
Go - Mustivar, Feilhaber?