With a week to go until the first leg of the Western Conference Finals between Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers, we thought we’d take a look at the (much shortened) offseason schedule and peek at how Sporting KC could be impacted.
November 26th — Option Exercise Deadline
For teams not in the MLS Cup Playoffs still, Nov 26th is the deadline to exercise options for the 2019 season. SKC will still have the second leg against Portland to go at this point. If they were to be eliminated they would have until Noon CT on November 30th to exercise options. If (when?) Sporting make MLS Cup, they’d have until 11 AM CT on the day after the cup to exercise options (December 9th). That’s a quick turnaround.
There is a decent sized list of Sporting KC players who have options for 2019 that the team would have to determine if they want to keep around. Nine to be exact. Here they are: Diego Rubio, Adrian Zendejas, Colton Storm, Amer Didic, Cristian Lobato, Kharlton Belmar, Erik Dick, Graham Smith and Brad Evans. When I look at that list, no one feel particularly safe outside of Diego Rubio. I’d guess Erik Dick and Graham Smith are relatively safe as 2018 first round SuperDraft picks.
December 9th — Half Day Trade Window
In addition to MLS Cup teams having to exercise options there is a half day trade window from from 8 AM to Noon CT. According to the rules, it’s not just trades as “clubs may sign and trade players (both non-Re-Entry Draft eligible players and Re-Entry Draft eligible).”
In years past, Peter Vermes has been very busy on this day to maneuver to avoid losing players in the MLS Expansion Draft. That won’t be an issue this year, but PV could still make moves. After Noon, teams enter a blackout period where no signing or trades can happen until after the Expansion Draft.
December 11th — FC Cincinnati MLS Expansion Draft
First, in case you haven’t heard, Sporting KC are exempt from this years draft. Along with SKC, the other four teams with players taken in 2017 by Los Angeles Football Club are also exempt. For the rest of the league they’ll have to decide what 11 players to protect. Generation adidas and off-budget Homegrown Players are automatically exempt, but some gems can be had in the draft. Look no further than Latif Blessing who had five goals and six assists for LAFC this season.
Cincinnati will get to select up to five players, with no more than one coming from each of the remaining 18 MLS teams. In exchange for the picks the teams losing a player will still get $50,000 in General Allocation Money.
December 11th — Free Agency Begins
After the Expansion Draft, MLS’ limited form of free agency begins. To be a free agent players need to be 28 years old or older and have eight (!) years of MLS experience and of course be out of contract. We also found out earlier this year, that there is a weird exception to this rule. If you are making above the MLS salary max budget charge, you basically cannot become a free agent in the true sense. Had Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi not signed new deals, they would have fallen into this bucket.
Around the league there are a few other players impacted by this, including two former Sporting KC players: Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara. Also impacted is Osvaldo Alonso. For a deeper understanding of this odd rule and free agency in general, I recommend you read that story from earlier this year.
December 12th — Waiver Draft
In the first of three uniquely MLS drafts, the Waiver Draft arrives at 3 PM CT on the 12th. The Waiver Draft mostly consists of players too young for the Re-Entry Drafts who have been waived by their prior clubs. This draft goes from worst to first and FC Cincinnati will pick 24th. Full rules available here.
December 14th — Re-Entry Draft (Stage 1)
At 2 PM CT on the 14th the second of the bizarre MLS drafts will take place. This is also in reverse finishing order with Cincinnati tacked onto the end. There are a few differences between who goes into this draft and who is in the Waiver Draft. First, is who is eligible. From MLSsoccer.com:
- Players who are at least 23 years old and have a minimum of three years of MLS experience whose contract options were not exercised by their clubs. They will be available at their option salary for 2019.
- Players who are at least 25 years old with a minimum of four years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them at their previous salary. They are available for at least their 2018 salary.
- Free Agents that choose to participate.
In Stage 1, players drafted either must have their options picked up or clubs may extend a “Bona Fide Offer.”
December 20th — Re-Entry Draft (Stage 2)
The main difference between Stage 1 and Stage 2 is that in the second stage teams can negotiate a new deal with players they select. For full Re-Entry Draft rules, head over to the league site.
Remainder of the Offseason
Of all the above mechanisms, the one most likely to impact Sporting KC are when options are declined. After that, if anyone joins it’ll likely be guys at or near the bottom of the roster. The real offseason begins after the blackout period when Sporting can start to sign players from around the world.
Besides the above mentioned nine players with 2019 options, the only other player who is out of contract without a player option is Seth Sinovic. It’s possible Khiry Shelton is out of contract too, it’s hard to know as the three players Sporting KC drafted (Saad Abdul-Salaam, Connor Hallisey and Amadou Dia) are all no longer with SKC.
That means for sure 17 players are coming back plus Homegrown signing Tyler Freeman will join the club. If SKC brought back all nine option players (they won’t — but they could) that would mean 27 of 30 roster spots are already filled. If they only bring back the three I threw out above, bring back Sinovic and Shelton and don’t trade any of the other 18 under contract, that means 23 of 30 spots are full and there still isn’t a ton of space to make moves. Depending on how the next few games play out, there may or may not be a large need for roster change.