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Sporting KC International Striker Target Update

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A review of past and current striker targets.

Brentford v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Chance/Getty Images

The MLS secondary transfer window officially opened two weeks ago (and closes August 8th), but Sporting Kansas City fans will be forgiven if they haven’t noticed. No moves have yet been made, despite the team having ample cap space and at least one free international roster slot. The Designated Player #9 signing promised last year has already begun to drift into the domain of urban legends, yet with Khiry Shelton out for two months or more Sporting’s striker needs have only increased.

With that in mind, it is worth taking a closer look at those who could fill the hole in Kansas City’s roster. Potential signings can be split into two groups: those coming from outside the league, and those available for trade within the league. International targets are SKC’s preference, as they would not require trading away any allocation money, so those will form the focus of this article. Another article on intra league targets (did you really think Nemeth would fail to make an appearance?) should follow shortly.

At the beginning of April, I compiled a list of potential targets for SKC, and I have created an updated list (Editor’s Note: Wow this is comprehensive, you should really look at it) since then to add further players like Alvaro Negredo who have been linked with KC. Many of the players from the first list make repeat appearances, although a number have been removed since the player in question was transferred and presumably will not be moved from their new team. A quick overview of some of the more notable players who have made such moves will help form an idea of what the current market for strikers looks like.

Previously Rumored Targets

Sergio Araujo: after numerous sources linked MLS with the former Barcelona academy prospect, Araujo signed a contract extension with Las Palmas, who were relegated to the second division while Araujo was on loan in Athens.

Bobby Wood: for a loan fee of €1.2M Hannover have procured Bobby’s services from Hamburg for one year. They also have an option to buy his contract for an undisclosed fee at the end of the loan if they so choose.

Fernando Torres: along with Wood, Torres was a player Vermes said he was looking at, though later sources linked him most closely with the Chicago Fire. Not satisfied with the proffered contract from Chicago, Torres signed in Japan.

Juan Ferney Otero: though never linked to SKC except by my own conjecture, I thought it would be useful to throw him in to show the going price for a 23-year-old South American forward. For €2.1M, French minnows SC Amiens obtained a versatile striker turned winger who averaged 0.42 non-penalty goals a game and 0.14 assists per game for Estudiantes in the Argentine first division, could win balls in the air and had good defensive involvement to boot. Of course not all young prospects can be had for such rates, as illustrated by the next example.

Brayan Angulo: CS Emelec reportedly turned down a $7.5M offer from MLS, although the team he would be joining was not specified. While playing in the Ecuadoran first division this season, Angulo has averaged 0.82 G/90 and 0.31 A/90. He also has played just over 270 minutes in the Copa Libertadores, scoring twice in that competition – including one goal against current Brazilian Serie A leaders Flamengo. Since Angulo hasn’t actually signed anywhere yet, he also merits inclusion in the next group.

Probable Current Targets

Grouping prospective strikers by age yields three distinct groups: young prospects with unknown ceilings, in their prime proven strikers, and highly accomplished but past their prime players.

Young Prospects

In the first group is Michael Estrada. Estrada had an excellent season last year, even better than fellow Ecuadoran Brayan Angulo. Unlike Angulo, Estrada has been terrible so far this season, playing only 480 minutes for Independiente del Valle, mainly as a sub, and only scoring a single goal in that time. Being just 22 years old, he still has plenty of prime years to improve and find that form again while still qualifying for the smaller cap hit of a young DP. It is worth mentioning that while Angulo may be higher priced now, Estrada was actually the more highly rated prospect last year, even getting capped by the Ecuadoran national team during World Cup qualification. Angulo, on the other hand, has yet to make an appearance for the Ecuadoran senior team.

Neal Maupay probably deserves inclusion under the young prospects grouping as the Frenchman is only 21 years old, though he doesn’t feel like one as he has already made over 100 senior team appearances in England and France. He was transferred from Saint-Etienne of Ligue 1 to Brentford last summer for only €2M, and he has done well in the Championship, scoring eleven non-penalty goals in his first season as well as notching four assists. After averaging 0.59 NPG+A/90, his price has undoubtedly risen, but unless it has more than doubled in a single year, he should still be well within SKC’s budget.

In addition to his production, Maupay has good passing with more than an 80% completion rate, decent playmaking at nearly a key pass per game, and good defensive involvement with 0.7 tackles+interceptions per game. Since Johnny Russell also came from the Championship, here are his numbers for comparison: 0.42 NPG+A/90 for Derby, 0.56 NPG+A/90 for SKC. Of course Russell moved from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 where he would naturally be playing a little closer to goal, so take the improvement percentage with a grain of salt.

Prime Age Players

Prime aged players undoubtedly form the top of the most wanted striker list, but they tend to be the hardest to acquire. SKC’s most active scouting grounds include Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, and England, and Vermes also replied in the affirmative when asked if he was looking at players who played in the World Cup, so it makes sense to start looking there. Whether Vermes was being at all serious or not in his answer is another question, but I will note that there is one player currently plying his trade in Belgium who made the Swedish World Cup roster, though he didn’t get a whole lot of playing time in the tournament.

That player is Isaac Thelin, a 26-year-old striker under contract with Anderlecht but who spent the last season on loan with Waasland-Beveren. He still has four years left on his contract, but is only valued at €3M according to Transfermarkt.com’s (admittedly highly dubious) methodology, so he could be available on SKC’s budget. He hasn’t been a prolific scorer when you exclude penalties from his tally, but 0.45 NPG+A/90 in the Belgian league isn’t bad and would probably see notable improvement in MLS. Thelin also put up respectable numbers in his time in France for Bordeaux a few years ago.

A player who fell short of making the Uruguayan national team is Abel Hernandez. Playing for Hull City in the Premier League two seasons ago, he scored four goals and added three assists in roughly 15 games worth of minutes. Following Hull’s relegation, Hernandez suffered an ACL injury last season which limited his minutes in the Championship to just 688. Despite this, he still scored eight goals and notched an assist to boot. A coveted free agent, his salary would likely be higher than SKC is used to paying but the absence of a transfer fee may render the figure acceptable.

Jonathan Calleri is in an odd situation, as he was reportedly set to become a free agent this summer, but it appears that instead he was only with Las Palmas on loan from Deportivo Maldonado who paid around $12M for him in 2016. Since the club currently resides in the Uruguayan second division, they are almost certainly looking to sell Calleri, but his value has dropped over the years as neither his performance two years ago at West Ham (one goal in 526 minutes) nor in this last season at Las Palmas (nine goals & three assists in 3,112 minutes) lived up to his hype. Still, 0.36 NPxG+xA/90 over 30+ La Liga games and 0.49 over half a dozen in the EPL is nothing to scoff at and would in all likelihood translate quite nicely to MLS. Whether a price exists that is satisfactory to both Vermes and Calleri’s club is another question, though if Jake Reid was correct in stating their willingness to pay $10M for the right player then Calleri has some chance of coming to Kansas City.

Fading Stars

The third is the most controversial group, the fading stars. Not everyone can get a Zlatan, and they may wind up with a Pirlo. The primary target in this group, Fernando Torres, has already gone to Japan, but there are several other former Spanish national team strikers to be had: Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente, and Roberto Soldado are all options, though only Alvaro has been linked to SKC so far (something Peter Vermes has shot down). Considering Spurs paid more than fifteen million for Llorente just last year, he is probably out of reach, though the fact that Spurs preferred to play Sonaldo at striker while Kane was injured suggests they aren’t too attached to Llorente’s services.

Soldado and Negredo are easy to compare to each other because both play for teams in the Turkish Super Lig, where they have averaged 0.83 and 0.76 NPG+A/90 respectively in league play over the last season. Soldado contributed to Fenerbahce’s attack mainly through his eight non-penalty goals in 1,308 league minutes, though he did add four assists as well, while Negredo got six each of non-penalty goals and assists in 1,419 minutes for Besiktas.

Although Soldado has been commanding higher transfer fees in the recent past (€5M to Negredo’s €2M last year) he is a year older at 33 to Negredo’s 32, so his value may decline more rapidly. It's also worth noting that former MLS striker Cyle Larin transferred to Besiktas, where he has scored four goals in 155 minutes. Of course that is an extremely small sample size and paints a very inaccurate picture of how Negredo compares to Larin, so it may be more informative to note that Negredo played nearly ten times as many minutes as Larin, so if their coach can be at all trusted to figure out who the best players on his team are it suggests that both Negredo and Soldado would be considerably better than Larin. Considering Larin scored at least ten goals in each of his seasons with Orlando, that speaks well of Negredo and Soldado: providing, of course, that they don’t age faster than their contracts do.

There are of course many more players out there, and even the full sheet cannot be considered truly comprehensive, but these highlights suffice to demonstrate several points. The first is that while transfer fees may be higher than in the past, there were several deals made for players of varying ages with different levels of experience that were well within SKC’s stated budget, not to mention a few free agents making moves as well.

It also makes certain statements made by Vermes on the difficulty of obtaining a striker ring slightly hollow, though to be fair to him there is considerably more to signing a player than just offering him a paycheck. How difficult it is lure players to the league in general and to KC in particular, and how well the player would fit into KC’s locker room culture and work ethos are questions only someone well acquainted with the players themselves would know for sure, but these deals do provide a mark against which SKC’s summer signings (or lack thereof) can be compared.