Last week Sporting Kansas City signed their fourth player from their USL club, the Swope Park Rangers. James Musa joined the club after Sporting KC previously signed Amer Didic, Adrian Zendejas and Tyler Pasher. Those names probably don’t mean much to you unless you are a hardcore fan. Before Musa joined the club, they had a combined 45 minutes of league play in 2017 (all from Pasher).
That immediately changed last weekend in Seattle when, on the heels of his signing, James Musa played the full 90 minutes. He played defensive midfielder and lined up next to Soni Mustivar who was playing in relief of Roger Espinoza in the #8 midfield role. It was Mustivar’s first appearance since he put in a single minute on June 24th against Los Angeles. Mustivar hadn’t started since May 20th against the Whitecaps. Both of these starts were losses.
So it begs the question, is James Musa going to replace Soni Mustivar?
No, Keep Him!
The immediate reaction is probably a definitive “no” from fans around SKC. Mustivar had been the starting defensive midfielder over the last two seasons in KC (2015 and 2016) and one of those saw Sporting winning the US Open Cup trophy. Over those two seasons he played 3,933 minutes over 50 games (44 starts). Mustivar was so important to the club I and others had argued he was the most important player on the field (Ilie proves that position is probably the most important).
On top of all that Sporting KC have almost no depth in the midfield. Sure Musa plays the same position as Mustivar, but Soni has spent time filling in for Espinoza in the #8 role and subbing for Benny Feilhaber in the #10 role (though he is such a bad fit there).
The current midfield depth chart looks something like this:
- #10 - Feilhaber, Jimmy Medranda, Cristian Lobato
- #8 - Espinoza, Medranda, Mustivar
- #6 - Ilie Sanchez, Mustivar, Musa
It could be argued that emergency midfield depth could come from Graham Zusi, who lined up there in the past. Also, Erik Palmer-Brown put in minutes at defensive midfielder with the United States U-20s.
Transfer Him Already
The argument for keeping Mustivar really starts to fall apart when you dig deeper. When talking about minutes played, 2017 is a huge change. Ilie had played every single minute before getting a rest against the Sounders. Barring an injury, he’ll probably get minimal rest over the remainder of the season. Mustivar has only 260 minutes this season (two starts, 14 appearances) and most of those are from late game mop up duty where he’s playing out of position.
As for the depth issue my only real concern is who backs up Espinoza. I would argue that Medranda is probably the best backup at both of the non-defensive midfielder spots. With Feilhaber and Espinoza getting nearly all the starting minutes, Medranda should be plenty fresh to sub in for both of them. Plus Lobato, who also players winger, has already put some midfield time in for Benny.
Another point is worth noting. Soni Mustivar makes $200,000. The amount Musa makes has not yet been disclosed but it’s a safe bet it’s at or near the league minimum. Both Zendejas and Pasher make $53,000. Musa wouldn’t qualify for that rate of pay because that’s only for players on the “reserve roster” and he’s too old to be classified that way (he’s 25 and you have to be 24 or younger). He is listed on the senior roster and that carries a minimum salary of $65,000.
$200,000 is a good chunk of money to invest in a backup that’s not getting on the field. It was only one game, but Musa acclimated himself well. Is Mustivar $135,000 better than Musa? That’s enough money to sign another two Daniel Salloi’s ($53,000 annual salary). And while $200,000 is breaking the bank, Ilie only makes $305,000, which now looks incredibly low for how important he is to SKC.
Even if Mustivar isn’t sold in the coming weeks (transfer windows are open all around the world even though MLS’ secondary window is closed) he looks to be out of a job pretty soon. If Sporting could get anything for him now, that seems worth doing. Mustivar hails from France and he’s spent the entire rest of his career overseas. A return to Europe would free up salary for 2018 and potentially bring back a fee (though I could see SKC letting him leave for free so he can simply start somewhere).
While there is no indication a move is imminent, it seems to make sense for all involved. If Mustivar doesn’t leave, he’ll provide additional midfield depth and will likely get some time late in games or if an injury comes up, but there is other depth than can likely replicate (or exceed) what Mustivar has provided.