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Why Ike Opara is Unlikely to be Traded this Window

The Sporting KC center back reportedly asked to consider trading him. Here is why that won’t happen. At least not yet.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After ESPN reported that Ike Opara had asked Peter Vermes to consider trading him, many Sporting Kansas City fans were understandably concerned. Not only is a healthy Ike in the consideration for the seasonal best XI, his speed and aerial presence are very valuable to a Sporting backline that features many slower players who benefit from Ike’s recovery runs. But with Andreu Fontas arriving last summer with a reported annual salary north of a million dollars per year, and Barath Botund signing with Sporting just a week after Ike’s reported trade request, the tea leaves appeared to point towards Ike’s departure.

Vermes “clarified” the situation and claimed that the quote had been taken out of context, but since at the same time Vermes also said that he would “consider all the options presented” it didn’t exactly shut down the trade rumors. The idea of sending Ike to the LA Galaxy in exchange for Ola Kamara in particular became quite popular. But aside from the fact that KC wants the Galaxy to have a terrible defense for at least one more year, there are a number of reasons for believing that Ike will be back in Sporting blue this year.

The first reason is that Sporting has been building quite the bank account these last few seasons, with well over two million in allocation money coming to Kansas City as a result of several trades. While the new salaries for Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic and Ilie Sanchez have not yet been made public, Sporting should have plenty of cap space to spare.

A rough estimate of Sporting Kansas City’s salary budget shows SKC requiring something in the neighborhood of $4.2 million in TAM to stay compliant, and with an annual allocation of $4.0 million in TAM, $140K in GAM being awarded for CCL participation, plus the $300K acquired via the Diego Rubio - Kelyn Rowe swap, SKC does not yet need to tap into the Dom Dwyer funds to stay compliant.

Rough SKC Salary Budget Estimate

2019 Roster Estimated Roster Charge TAM Buydown GAM Buydown Adjusted Roster Charge
2019 Roster Estimated Roster Charge TAM Buydown GAM Buydown Adjusted Roster Charge
Tim Melia (GK) 325 325
Adrian Zendejas (GK) (Supplemental) 0 0
Eric Dick (GK) (Reserve) 0 0
GOALKEEPERS 325 0 0 325
Ike Opara (CB) 350 350
Matt Besler (CB) 600 450 150
Andreu Fontas (CB/DM) (International) 1000 850 150
Botond Barath (CB) (International) 300 300
Graham Smith (CB) (Reserve) 0 0
Jimmy Medranda (LB/CM/AM) 150 150
Jaylin Lindsay (RB) (HG) (Reserve) 0 0
Seth Sinovic (LB) 160 160
Graham Zusi (RB) 600 450 150
Rodney Wallace (LB/LW) 200 200
DEFENDERS 3360 1750 0 1610
Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal (CM/DM) (HG) (Supplemental) 0 0
Roger Espinoza (CM) 700 550 150
Felipe Gutierrez (CM/DM/AM) (DP) (International) 525 300 225
Kelyn Rowe (AM/CM/LW) 275 275
Ilie Sanchez (DM) (TAM: 200K) 700 550 150
Gianluca Busio (AM/CM) (HGR) 0 0
Yohan Croizet (AM/LW/RW) (International) 700 550 150
MIDFIELDERS 2900 1950 0 950
Gerso Fernandes (LW/RW) 625 475 150
Johnny Russell (RW/LW) (INT) (DP) 525 525
Erik Hurtado (CF) 165 165
Tyler Freeman (CF) 0 0
Krisztian Nemeth (CF/LW) (DP) (International) 525 525
Daniel Salloi (LW/RW/CF) (HG) (Supplemental) (International) 0 0
FORWARDS 1840 475 0 1365
ESTIMATED TOTALS 8425 4175 0 4250
With 2 DPs and Nemeth's estimated 1.1M bought down: 9000 4750 0 4250
With a new DP added: 9525 5000 275 4250
*DPs are represented with a roster charge of $525K while others are above that because they are being bought down with Targeted Allocation Money (TAM). Some DPs are being bought down on top of the fact that they are using the DP mechanism. Again, these are rough estimates.

One indication that there is a good chunk of the Dwyer money still unspent is that in March of last year, Sporting KC traded $140K TAM for $100K GAM. Swapping a larger quantity of an asset which expires for a smaller quantity of one which does not strongly suggests that SKC was banking additional funds for which it had no immediate use.

All this is to say that keeping Besler, Fontas, Ike and Botund all on the books does not pose a serious challenge to SKC’s salary budget. While a high offer, probably at least a million, could very well tempt Vermes who enjoys getting the best of an intra-league deal, trading Ike is quite risky.

Sporting didn’t have the best of luck with signing new central defenders last year, with Emiliano Amor leaving mid season and Brad Evans never making the field. Fontas hasn’t played enough minutes for an accurate assessment of his ability and fit, besides which he is much closer to Besler (good passing, less speed, left footed) than to Ike.

Botund Barath may work out well, or he may not. Sporting may suffer relatively few injuries to their defense, or they may need significant minutes from their fourth and fifth choice center backs. Trading Ike at the start of the season, before Fontas and Botund have had more time to adjust and prove themselves equal to the task of replacing Ike, seems unnecessarily risky.

If Vermes can get more than the $750K+ in allocation moneys FC Cincinnati gave up to the Vancouver Whitecaps in exchange for Kendall Waston, and Sporting’s defense have suffered no long term injuries, than he may very well trade Ike over the summer. But at least for now, Ike looks like a good bet to feature in Sporting’s March 10th home opener against the Philadelphia Union.