The 2018 MLS SuperDraft was held in Philadelphia yesterday. A week previous, nine-year Assistant Coach Kerry Zavagnin adjudged the draft in general in my article on thebluetestament.com “An Inside Look at Sporting Kansas City”:
“The draft has changed over the last few years with the [development of the] academies and developing players within your own club. Unless you have a really high draft pick, you are looking at drafting players that will be put right into [2nd team] Swope Park Rangers. So it’s left to be seen because we have two picks in the first round. We have strategies of drafting the best talent that is on the board at the time, but we’ve also identified a couple key positions that we would like to get deeper in.”
Yesterday, even though a handful of teams arguably improved their top 11-18 roster spots, Sporting Kansas City picked up the top-rated goalkeeper, Eric Dick, with their first pick (13th overall) and a center back who was not mentioned as a first-round pick by any prognasticators – Graham Smith five picks later.
What facts and logical conclusions and suppositions can we make from the picks and statements that Manager and Technical Director Peter Vermes gave after the draft?
The picks do not address any immediate first-team needs: As Zavagnin foreshadowed, Sporting KC obtained two players that will add depth but play immediately for 2nd team Swope Park Rangers. Dick addresses a need for quality goalkeepers (more on that later) and Smith addresses a club need for depth at center back. No #9 striker, or playmaking midfielder, or strong attacking winger (or anyone who could develop into one of those) was chosen.
However, Sporting KC was involved in the talks that saw a heavy eight draft-day trades go down.
“We were [in the talk of trades for early picks]. Everybody kind of knew where the first pick was going to go,” Vermes stated. “We weren’t sure what was going to fall from there. We paid attention to who the next guys were and strategized from there. Because the third pick went for the money that it went for (which I thought was interesting) it changed things in the way people were moving their spots around.”
Vermes implies that the price to nab an early pick was too high (Picks 3-5 went in trades for $200,000 (picks 3 & 4) and $175,00 (pick 5) in overall allocation money.). The logical conclusion here is that even though Sporting KC is rich in allocation funds, mostly from the trades of striker Dom Dwyer and midfielder Benny Feilhaber, they could not obtain a player from the draft that is better than what they have in the club already or believe they can get from the international market in the transfer window that closes in 11 days on January 31 throughout much of Europe.
Could a trade that packages a goalkeeper, possibly Eric Dick (As Vermes said here that many teams were interested in him…), with some General and/or Targeted Allocation money be made to obtain one of the top picks or an established MLSer be in the cards? Probably not … because of the next point …
The choosing of Eric Dick signals a lack of contentedness with Sporting Kansas City’s current goalkeeping crop: It was evident from Andrew Dykstra’s performance as Tim Melia’s late-season injury replacement last season, that Dykstra is not the goalkeeper of the future. As always in soccer, goalkeeper is a pivotal position. He must be counted on to not make match-killing mistakes – see Houston’s match-winning goal October 11 in Houston – and to make saves that are unexpected. There are currently five goalkeepers on the SKC/SPR rosters. Expect at least one – likely Dykstra – to be gone before the season begins. And expect Dick to be the heir-apparent because of Vermes’ comment – “We think [Dick] has an incredible ceiling.”
Recent acquisition Emiliano Amor is the #3 Center back: At the #13 pick, highly-rated center back Wyatt Omsberg remained on the board (He went to Minnesota United on the 15th pick.). The Dartmouth back was picked to go as high as 4th in the draft by pundits. However, Sporting KC passed likely because they believe in the 21-year-old Amor Argentine loanee from Velez Sarsfield. It is another smart piece of business by the Sporting brass. They paid no transfer fee and even though his salary will count on the cap, they are getting a first-division seasoned player (more than 50 appearances). Additionally, “It gives us a great opportunity to take a look at the player,” said Vermes as Sporting Kansas City has an option to purchase the player outright at the end of the season. “We know quite a bit about him. He’s good. He’s solid. He’s young.”
The Youth Movement Continues: Last season, Sporting invested in, and gave substantial minutes, to forwards Diego Rubio and Daniel Salloi, 24 and 21-years of age respectively, as well as Expansion Draft victim, 22-year-old forward Latif Blessing. In the last four months, not including Dick and Smith, Sporting KC has signed nine players to the first team ages 15-25, including forward Khiry Shelton and a designated-player in dynamic French midfielder Yohan Croizet.
But the Buck Must Stop Here: Sporting Kansas City, points-wise, was the 11th best team in the 22 team MLS – essentially a second-tier team in 2017, discounting the success of winning the U.S. Open Cup Championship. The league’s top defense kept an often-errant attack from being the reason the playoffs were missed for the first time since 2010. The promise made by Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman must be kept – the team must invest in a proven, likely veteran, goal-scoring striker, a #9, or risk falling into the lower tier of MLS clubs. The lack of a signing has not been because of a lack of trying for certain. The Kansas City Star reported on January 15 that “On at least two occasions, Sporting KC has agreed to a multi-year deal with a forward, but the player’s club has nixed the transfer, deciding it does not want to sell one of its starters in the middle of the European season.”
Yes, Sporting KC is trying to accomplish a very difficult thing. After all, pure goal scorers are a coveted commodity. But gone are Dwyer, Feilhaber, and Blessing – providers of 13 of SKC’s 40 goals in 2017. Now is the time. Not in the summer window. Now. Sporting KC’s decision-makers will not sign a player just to sign anyone. We know that. But Now is the time to clinch a deal for a player who fits the need.
And quality depth on the wing – preferably a winger with good speed capable of changing a game in the late minutes – is also needed. Expect at least two international signings on the level of the Croizet acquisition or beyond, to occur soon. However, when asked about any new international acquisitions, Vermes stated after the draft, “We are always active. We’ll see how the market plays out here.”
Depth in some key areas has likely been provided for by Dick (likely the heir to Melia) and Smith. Insurance at center back in the form of the young veteran Amor has arrived, for at least a season. Youth has been served. Savvy moves have provided some new potential and some new veteran presence and the funds for bigger moves than in the past. Yet the fact is that many MLS clubs made significant moves during the SuperDraft to improve their top 18, their immediate needs. Sporting KC did not.
Hopefully it is an indication that Sporting Kansas City will be very active before much of the international transfer window closes January 31, a time when preseason camp will begin to hit its stride. Now is the time to raise the level of this side before the core of the team ages past its sell-by date. Now is the time to reward the fans. Now is the time to raise expectations.