On Monday, Sporting Kansas City announced that Khiry Shelton, who left after the 2018 season for Germany, was returning on a guaranteed three-year contract. Here are a few immediately reactions in the wake of Shelton’s return.
Shelton Cannot be the Starting CF... Right?!?
After rumors tying SKC to Liga MX strikers like Alan Pulido and Lucas Cavillini (who reportedly signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps), the signing of Shelton sent fans into a fit on social media. Some, of course, love Shelton and are excited. Many are concerned that Shelton is the only center forward that Sporting will add during the offseason. With Shelton (and Hurtado’s) injury history (more on that below), the team needs three strikers.
If there is any consulation, Peter Vermes said, “as the 2020 season approaches, we will continue to strengthen our roster with signings on all three lines of the field” (emphasis mine). The team has filled 24 of 30 possible roster spots. At the bare minimum they need a backup left back (as Luis Martins is the only one on the roster if you consider Jaylin Lindsey a right back). If they want to change the 2019 outcome, they need a few big moves, at least in midfield and the forward lines (though CB could still be considered a need). It’s arguable they need a lot more than that (they have three open international spots).
Update 12/10/19: Sporting KC signed striker Alan Pulido for a record transfer fee.
The Defense Just Got Better...
I’ll defer to Nathan Martin on Twitter:
Shelton's return is (almost) all about the defense.— Nathan Martin (@NMthenoise) December 9, 2019
1542 mins w/ Shelton:
1.81 GF 0.58 GA
1878 mins w/o Shelton:
1.96 GF 1.73 GA
Defensive injury mitigations exaggerate the difference but at least some of the 1.15 fewer GA is Shelton #SportingKC
The goals for go up slightly when Shelton isn’t on the field, but the goals allowed dip dramatically when he is on the field. There are lots of factors at play, but Shelton assuredly plays very hard. He drops very deep to play defense and often pops up in his own 18-yard-box making a clearance or pressing back.
The big test will be how much Khiry can impact the defense that was in disarray last year. With a suddenly old Matt Besler and Graham Zusi next to a rotating cast of characters trying to fill the enourmous shoes of Ike Opara, a defensive CF might not be enough.
... But the Offense Just Got Worse
As if you didn’t know already, Khiry isn’t a prolific goal scorer. Two goals in 2018 with Sporting KC and just eight goals (and 15 assists) in his MLS career (which spans four seasons). Shelton fans will tout his hold up play, but I’m not so sure. I want to be wrong but players scored at an exceptional rate, far outpacing their expected goals (xG) with Khiry on the field. Is that a fluke or a result of Shelton? Only more time with him at CF will make that clear.
Can Khiry Stay Healthy?
In 2018 with Sporting KC (his only season in Kansas City) he missed a couple months with a knee injury. After leaving for Paderborn 07 in Germany he picked up an injury that cost him another couple months of playing time. In fact, he’s missed time in every professional season he’s played. He missed a combined 34 games in three seasons with New York City FC according to Transfermarkt.
He’ll join Erik Hurtado at center forward who missed half of 2019 with an injury of his own. Between the two of them, maybe they’ll be worth a full players worth of minutes in 2019. As a reminder, SKC just signed a guaranteed three-year deal with Shelton. Hurtado is signed just through 2020.
Is Shelton Better than Hurtado?
Personally, I’m not convinced. I’ve written a lot about not being a Shelton guy. I hope he proves me wrong. When comparing Shelton and Hurtado they feel like similar players. Shelton is taller, but he’s definitely worse in the air. They are both strong and fast and not prolific in front of the net (though Hurtado seems like the better finisher to my eye). Neither retains the ball well when they attempt to hold it up. They both have a pretty strong defensive work rate (though I’d give Shelton the edge here). And they can both run for days without ever appearing very tired. It probably comes down to what you prefer in your striker. I prefer they are both backups.
How Much did Shelton Sign for?
As long as Shelton isn’t being overpaid, I’m totally good with this move. He made a bargain basement $119,745.00 in 2018. Hurtado made $181,249.96 in 2019. I expect Shelton got a raise, but it should be modest. If they are both in Hurtado’s wage range, then that’s more than reasonable for backup strikers. Shelton’s deal made no mention of him being on a Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) level deal (above $530,000 in 2019) so that’s a good sign (it’s common for teams to announce if TAM was used in the press release — see Andreu Fontas’ signing in 2018). That would be wholly unreasonable if he was above that number. Also, it would leave plenty of room for that mythical DP striker.
I’d Still Rather Have Rubio
I’ve been a Diego Rubio guy since he joined the team (and even after he left). And honestly, even at his higher salary, I’d rather have Rubio for roster diversity. In my eyes, Hurtado and Shelton are very similar. It’s nice to have different changes of pace available. In my ideal world you have a Hurtado/Shelton type to kill games off when you are ahead (or maybe start those tough road games). You have a Rubio type to score when you need a goal off the bench. And you have a DP who starts the majority of the games. I realize it’s a dream and it’s definitely not happening.