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Should Sporting KC Start the Rebuild Now?

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Many fans are calling for a full-blown rebuild. We take a look at the options.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Sporting Kansas City Peter G. Aiken

Sporting Kansas City’s 2019 season is not going as anyone expected. The club was early season favorites to be competing for multiple trophies. Things actually started pretty promising too. They crushed Liga MX side Toluca FC over two legs in the CONCACAF Champions League and made it to the semifinals of that competition.

They lost their MLS opener in Los Angeles against LAFC after just two days rest. Not a bad loss at the time, especially seeing how good LAFC are. From there they got going in MLS and picked up a few wins and sat in third in the power rankings. But then the injuries started. And the poor form quickly followed.

After 18 leagues games, Sporting KC sit in last place in the Western Conference with 16 games to play. The season is far from over, but that’s not stopping fans from calling for a full-scale rebuild. The problem is, it simply may not be possible to rebuild.

Who Can Be Released After 2019?

At the end of the 2019 season, Sporting KC will have 13 players whose contract will either have expired or who the team can decline their option and be free of those players. Only three of them make above the MLS Salary Budget max of $530,000. Those three players are Benny Feilhaber, Krisztian Nemeth and Gerso Fernandes. Of those, Feilhaber seems unlikely to return and depending on how the year plays out, maybe Nemeth will leave Kansas City for the second time. Gerso on the other hand is someone probably everyone agree the team should pick up his 2020 contract option.

The other 10 players who can be released after 2019 are: Seth Sinovic, Jimmy Medranda, Adrian Zendejas, Eric Dick, Graham Smith, Rodney Wallace, Erik Hurtado, Gedion Zelalem, Nicolas Hasler and Kelyn Rowe.

Of that group, Wallace is almost assuredly gone. He’s paid too much and he barely played before being injured for the season. Sam Mellinger reported that Kelyn Rowe’s deal expires after 2019, something we could only speculate on previously. If he continues to perform (or underperform) at his current rate, he’s likely to be gone. The Star also confirmed that Zelalem’s contract goes up significantly, though no specific numbers were given, though that doesn’t assure he won’t be around.

Literally all the rest of the players are on inexpensive deals and are likely not seen as the problems that fans want to rid themselves of. Sure Nico Hasler is probably gone because he’s taking up an international roster spot and Jaylin Lindsey will be back. And Seth Sinovic will be 33 by the start of the season, but I could easily see him back again as depth (and probably eventually as the starter since he can’t be replaced) in 2020.

No, these aren’t the players that most fans are worried about or referring to when they talk of wanting to blow up the roster.

When Are the Bloated Contracts Gone?

Nine more deals run through at least the 2020 season where they either expire outright or the team hold options in years beyond that. That includes high paid players like Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Yohan Croizet, Johnny Russell and Felipe Gutierrez. It’s possible fans are wanting to rid themselves of some or all of those players based on how 2019 is playing out so far. The only way to do that this year (or in the offseason) would be to trade them or transfer them to another league.

The real players that fans bring up over and over that they want gone are Graham Zusi (how quickly they turned on him after a bad first half of the season) and Andreu Fontas. Zusi’s contract is guaranteed through 2021. Fontas’ deal runs through 2022.

Another option, not mentioned above, is to buyout their contract entirely. This can happen during the regular season, but it doesn’t bring any salary budget relief. Instead it simply opens up their roster spot. However, in the offseason, the team can do this with one player as laid out in the roster rules.

“A club may buy out one player who has a Guaranteed Contract (including a Designated Player’s) during the offseason and free up the corresponding Salary Budget space. Such a buyout is at the club’s expense.

A club may not free up space in the Salary Budget with a buyout of a player’s contract during the season. In the case a club buys out a player’s contract during the season, the buyout amount will be charged against the club’s Salary Budget.”

So What Happens Next?

It’s extremely unlikely any of the players that fans are dissatisfied with will be gone anytime soon. There is always the possibility of a trade or transfer during the secondary transfer window, but that would mean selling players at their lowest value.

If you can get a team, say Orlando City, to take a player like Zusi who is from Orlando, then they should probably do it. Hasler is a serviceable starter and Jaylin Lindsey should be back by September. SKC swindled Orlando once on the Dom Dwyer trade, I doubt it happens again. Especially as he’s very overpaid based on his current form.

Another reason these moves probably don’t happen is because it would be Vermes admitting failure. While he may ultimately do so in the offseason, I think he firmly believes if the team were simply healthy they would be playing far better. I’m inclined to agree, even if that’s not the only thing ailing SKC right now. He’s said over and over the last couple weeks that he can’t evaluate players when they aren’t healthy and when they can’t play together.

Now, just because Sporting KC can’t easily move on from most of these players, if their form still stays poor, there is an argument that they could make changes in other ways. They could play the kids like Gianluca Busio, Wan Kuzain, Daniel Salloi and Jaylin Lindsey a lot more. They could even give a runout to Tyler Freeman (who can barely get on the field with Swope Park Rangers) or sign a new Homegrown like Felipe Hernandez who has been killing it in the USL Championship this season.

Even some of the “older” kids like Jimmy Medranda and Gedion Zelalem should see more minutes. So even if this season never turns around, there will be a reason to watch.

Ultimately, the full blown rebuild isn’t going to happen though. The way the MLS rules are set up it is simply difficult to do. That doesn’t mean things won’t change though. Roster turnover in MLS is pretty constant and that should be no different for Sporting KC this offseason (or maybe sooner).

Below is the full roster sorted by contract expiration (soonest to latest based on guaranteed years). If you were in charge, what would you do with this roster? Who would you keep? Who would you release at all costs? Would you move on from Fontas after just one year? Let us know in the comments.

SKC Roster

Name Position Status Joined Contract Expiration Option Years
Name Position Status Joined Contract Expiration Option Years
Seth Sinovic LB 11/28/2011 2019 2020
Jimmy Medranda LB/CM 8/9/2013 2019 2020
Adrian Zendejas GK 12/2/2016 2019 2020
Gerso Fernandes RW 1/4/2017 2019 2020
Eric Dick GK 2/15/2018 2019 2020, 2021
Graham Smith CB 2/15/2018 2019 2020, 2021
Krisztian Nemeth FWD INT 8/6/2018 2019 2020
Rodney Wallace LB/LW 12/14/2018 2019 None
Erik Hurtado FWD 12/14/2018 2019 2020
Gedion Zelalem MID 3/11/2019 2019 2020, 2021
Nicolas Hasler DEF INT 4/2/2019 2019 None
Benny Feilhaber MID 5/8/2019 2019 2020
Kelyn Rowe MID/FWD 12/18/2018 2019 Unknown
Matt Besler CB 1/15/2009 2020 None
Roger Espinoza CM 1/6/2015 2020 None
Daniel Salloi LW HG 1/13/2016 2020 2021
Gianluca Busio CAM HG 8/25/2017 2020 2021, 2022
Yohan Croizet MID/FWD INT-DP 12/15/2017 2020 2021
Johnny Russell LW INT-DP 1/31/2018 2020 2021
Felipe Gutierrez CM INT-DP 2/6/2018 2020 2021
Kuzain CDM HG 4/13/2018 2020 2021, 2022
Botond Barath CB INT 12/18/2018 2020 2021
Graham Zusi RB 1/15/2009 2021 None
Tim Melia GK 12/23/2014 2021 2022
Ilie Sanchez CDM 1/13/2017 2021 2022
Jaylin Lindsey RB HG 1/1/2018 2021 2022
Andreu Fontas CB INT 8/8/2018 2022 None
Tyler Freeman FWD HG 1/1/2019 2022 2023