Ever since Sporting Kansas City traded Dom Dwyer to Orlando in July of 2017, the question of who would come in and claim the role of goal-scoring center forward in Peter Vermes’ 4-3-3 system has been asked.
Fast-forward to January 2019, before a season that will begin February 29 in the Round of 16 of the CONCACAF Champions League against Liga MX Clausura runners-up Toluca FC, a January that is after the trade of Diego Rubio – the most likely prospect, by his 2018 performance, to put a stranglehold on the position – to Colorado Rapids in December. A definitive answer has still not been found, despite much discussed promises and near-signings.
Some pundits argue that Sporting Kansas City is “one player away” from becoming perhaps the team to beat in MLS (see video at bottom of that story), others look at the augmentation of the side before the 2018 season and the subsequent record 65 goals scored and a spot in the Western Conference Final as proof that a 15+ goal scoring #9 is not necessary (After all, Sporting KC didn’t have that success with Dwyer, save for his contributions in the run to MLS Cup 2013.).
It is the “Don’t stop until we are the best” crowd (an MLS Cup championship still eludes the club after five seasons) vs. those happy to see improved potency and potential.
For his part, Sporting Kansas City Technical Director and Manager Peter Vermes has pegged 30-year-old Hungarian Krisztian Nemeth for the job (see the video linked above). He the wonderkid of the 2015 season with 16 goals and seven assists in 33 games in all competitions. However, he left the team on a transfer after that season and has not found near-such success since, even failing to impress in four appearances with Kansas City after being reacquired late last season.
Rubio’s jettison and Khiry Shelton’s departure (20 appearances, mostly at the #9 last season) leave Nemeth and newly-acquired Erik Hurtado (and possibly Daniel Salloi or Yohan Croizet) as depth at the critical position. However, Vermes did allude to a probable January or February addition at center forward after a flurry of deals made by the team in December:
“We are very close,” Vermes explained. “I’m not trying to make a prediction here, but there is a good chance there might be one other addition. But that will probably come a little later: no way before Christmas, and probably into the new year. If it does, it will probably be in mid-January or into February. Outside of that, we have almost finalized our roster.”
Later in the article, Vermes elaborated, “It would most likely be another number 9.”
In our discussion with Vermes yesterday over the phone from training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, The Blue Testament asked the 2018 MLS Sporting Executive of the Year for an update.
We asked, “In December, you stated that another signing could be made in January. Is there any progress towards that end?”
“I would say, ‘Not yet.’ It is not something that we are heavily pursuing. We are not killing ourselves to get something done. It’s more that we are being very patient,” said Vermes. “We want to make sure that if we do add something, that it has to be right in all ways.”
Currently, Sporting KC’s roster sits at 26 from a maximum of 30 (20 Senior roster spots, four Supplemental spots, and six Reserve spots) with all three Designated player slots taken by Croizet, Roger Espinoza, and Felipe Gutierrez (though when the roster compliance day comes, it could be Gutierrez, Johnny Russell and Andreu Fontas based on the late season salary release).
Making their way past Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League, competing for the US Open Cup Championship, and once again gaining a top two spot in the Western Conference for home-field advantage in MLS Cup’s new playoff format are surely Sporting’s goals, at least, for the season. Can those be done without an established #9?
“We are not in a rush. We feel that we have a good roster to be able to do the things we want to do,” Vermes declared.
All eyes will surely be on Nemeth and his performances in the preseason. The first preseason match is this Friday against fourth division side Sporting AZ.