With the news last week that backup center forward Erik Hurtado would be out for 2-3 months, the lack of depth at center forward for Sporting Kansas City became immediately apparent. Last week we looked at the CF options currently under contract with the first team. Now we’ll explore some potential short-term fixes that could be signed.
Swope Park Rangers
The first and most obvious place to look is at SKC’s USL Championship team. The Rangers have a plethora of options, though it’s unclear how realistic any of them are.
The starting CF for the first two games of the season has been 19-year-old SKC Academy product, Wilson Harris. Harris signed a full team contract in 2018 with Swope Park and chose to forgo a collegiate career to turn pro. He spent the entire preseason with Sporting KC and appeared in the lineup with the third team (and even once with the second team when Nemeth was hurt). He’s probably not ready, but he’d be a good emergency option to sign a Homegrown contract.
Other options currently with Swope are limited. William Opoku Mensah from Ghana signed this offseason. He has yet to appear for the Rangers and is 23-years-old. He joined the club just days before the start of the USL season. Unless he’s blowing it away in training, this would be a surprise.
The only other Ranger who’s played center forward is Ethan Vanacore-Decker. Decker spent a portion of preseason with SKC as well, but he seems like more of a winger than center forward, despite appearing there twice already this season. Decker is 24-years-old but if he got signed, he’d almost assuredly get a one year deal and get cut this offseason. He hasn’t been great in USL, so MLS is quite a jump.
One persistent rumor that lingers in the back of the mind is soon to be out of contract striker Steven Naismith. He is making a significant salary as he’s on loan from English Championship club Norwich City to Scottish club Hearts of Midloathian. The 32-year-old isn’t a spring chicken but he can sign a pre-contract as he’ll be out of contract this summer. He just had knee surgery, though he expects to come back this season.
Hearts have made him an offer, but he hasn’t yet accepted it. He told BBC that “when, as a family, I know exactly what I want to do, we’ll move forward rather than dragging it on.” That sounds like a man that’s quite undecided.
I have no inside information, but if Naismith would sign for a reduced rate, his work rate is the kind of thing that Peter Vermes would love. He’d be a solid system fit and a nice short term add (maybe an 18-month deal). If he isn’t the regular starter (maybe not ideal for him) then that’s probably good for both his and Nemeth’s ability to stay healthy.
MLS Free Agents
There aren’t a lot of center forwards that are currently out of contract in MLS. Transfermarkt shows a very short list. There are some options like Giles Barnes (Colorado Rapids) or Luis Solignac (Chicago Fire) who seem like poor fits.
Two other options are intriguing. The first option is former SKC SuperDraft pick Yura Movsisyan. After being drafted fourth overall in 2006 by the then Kansas City Wizards, Yura was traded to Real Salt Lake. He spent time with RSL, then abroad and then back with RSL on loan. In 2018 he was released and claimed by the Fire on waivers. The biggest issue is his massive 2018 salary, $2,073,750. Not a chance that happens without a massive pay cut. And who knows what his relationship is with Sporting after parting ways in the past.
Another intriguing option is Sean Okoli. He’s formerly of New York City FC and has been out of contract since the middle of last year. His 2017 salary was the league minimum $53,000. He spent time with FK Jerv in Norway, but he’s back out of contract again. He wasn’t very impressive in MLS with NYCFC getting 16 appearances (three starts) for 421 minutes in 2017 with just a single goal. In 2016 he was the USL Golden Boot winner for then USL side, FC Cincinnati. He has some technical ability and is a far cheaper option to sit on the bench in KC or occasionally spell Nemeth.
Someone You’ve Never Heard Of
If we broaden our search to out of contract players not in MLS, the list grows quite a bit. The player ages just get older and older and many of the players have a fairly high value which usually corresponds to a higher salary. With my limited knowledge of these players, no one jumps out except former Seattle Sounders forward Obafemi Martins, who is both expensive and a potentially poor fit for Sporting’s new possession style, though he’s no doubt an upgrade. Outside of these listed players, Sporting have scouts all over and likely have players they are tracking.
There is no indication, that despite the injuries, that a signing is imminent or even being considered. Maybe SKC just ride it out and wait for Salloi to get healthy in about six weeks. That said, I believe a signing is needed at either center forward or on the wing (more so at CF). Imagine an injury to Krisztian Nemeth, Gerso Fernandes or Johnny Russell. Suddenly the team is in big trouble. If it gets dire, maybe they go for a bigger splash. Until then, some depth like Okoli wouldn’t be the worst option in the very short term.