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Who Should Sporting KC Bring Back in 2020?

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We look at all the players with a 2020 contract option and break down who should return.

Sporting Kansas City v Columbus Crew SC Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Updated 11/8/2019: This story was originally written with seven games to go in the year (published August 27th) thinking that roster moves would happen immediately after the season. That hasn’t been the case (though many other teams have made moves). With the deadline approaching on November 21st to exercise options and many other aspects of the offseason calendar starting Monday the 11th, things are about to pick up.

With that, we’ll revisit our stance on who stays and who goes below in italics.


There are just seven games to go in the 2019 MLS regular season. It’s been a tough year for Sporting Kansas City fans and one that is still far from over. Since Sporting KC have long odds of making the playoffs, it’s never too early to look to 2020. Especially because when the season ends, teams tend to make moves right away. That could change with the new, longer offseason, but let's not take any chances.

Today we are going to break down all 12 players whose contracts either expire at the end of the year or who the club holds an option on for 2020 and beyond. That means we won’t tackle players like Andreu Fontas and Graham Zusi, who are both under contract for multiple years. The same goes for players like Yohan Croizet* and Roger Espinoza, who are signed through the 2020 season. We at The Blue Testament already tackled those issues in our previous feature about the team's inability to do a quick rebuild.

For a quick point of reference, here are the players on the roster and the year their current contract expires (not including option years). And here it is in more detail, including all their option years.

2019

Seth Sinovic, Jimmy Medranda, Adrian Zendejas, Gerso Fernandes, Eric Dick, Graham Smith, Krisztian Nemeth, Rodney Wallace, Erik Hurtado, Gedion Zelalem, Nicolas Hasler, Benny Feilhaber

2020

Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Daniel Salloi, Gianluca Busio, Yohan Croizet*, Johnny Russell, Felipe Gutierrez, Wan Kuzain, Botond Barath

2021

Graham Zusi, Tim Melia, Ilie Sanchez, Jaylin Lindsey, Luis Martins

2022

Andreu Fontas, Tyler Freeman, Cameron Duke

Breaking Down the 2019 Expirations

First, it’s important to note there are two categories of players when it comes to players who’s deals expire after 2019. There are players that the team hold at least a 2020 option on and there are players who are simply out of contract. Only two players are fully out of contract: Rodney Wallace and Nico Hasler. Everyone else has an option for 2020 and three players (Zelalem, Dick and Smith) all have 2021 options as well.

Players Out of Contract

Rodney Wallace

Unfortunately for Wallace and the team, this will go down as yet another free agent signing that is a failure. He made $360,000 to play only 27 league minutes. It’s a real shame he never got a chance to earn the left back job. With Luis Martins added to the roster and Sinovic and Medranda still potentially around, there is no way Wallace returns to KC.

Verdict: Don’t Re-sign

Nico Hasler

It’s arguable that Hasler has been the best right back on the roster. However, he has one big thing going against him. He is taking up an international roster spot and the team can only have eight players in those slots. Couple that with the fact that he isn’t the starter at RB and Jaylin Lindsey has returned from injury and there is just no roster spot for Hasler. He is potentially (and likely) third on the depth chart (and Vermes has said new Homegrown signing Cameron Duke can play RB too, so maybe fourth). SKC can’t use an international spot on a player not likely to see the field.

Verdict: Don’t Re-sign

Players with 2020 Options

Seth Sinovic

That Kansas City native just can’t seem to be unseated at left back. Over the last two weeks new signing Luis Martins has started but Seth always seems to win his job back. This might be the time he doesn’t do that, but Sinovic is a great insurance policy if nothing else. He is only making $143,000 in 2019 and likely would be due a small raise for 2020 (though he did take a pay cut in 2019, so you never know). Add to it that there are no left backs in the system waiting to take over other than maybe Jimmy Medranda, who has only played left back in limited minutes in 2019. You have to bring Seth back in my opinion. That said, he is definitely on the bubble.

Verdict: Pick up his Option

Jimmy Medranda

Speaking of Medranda, he’s coming off a catastrophic knee injury and has played limited minutes in 2019. Even with that, he is such a valuable piece to this team and he’s still relatively young (26 next February), I can’t see SKC not bringing him back. He makes just $155,004 and he plays left back, midfielder and winger (and I guess center forward...). That’s too valuable to let go.

Verdict: Pick up his Option

Benny Feilhaber

The return of Feilhaber was 100% a move Peter Vermes felt he had to make to deal with the injury crisis. Benny has been a great addition and has undoubtedly made an impact. That said, he’s in that awful salary purgatory below a Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contract. Unless the new CBA changes the way wages work, it’ll be hard to bring Benny back. On his podcast Feilhaber mentioned he would take less money to stay with Los Angeles Football Club. If he would do the same in KC, there is a chance. But right now, he makes $463,400 and probably is due a raise if his option is picked up. I’m a Benny fan, but at the number, he doesn’t fit. Not to mention, midfielder is probably this teams deepest position.

Verdict: Decline his Option

Krisztian Nemeth

Nemeth hasn’t scored a goal since May of 2019 (he finally scored Sept 29th, two more months after this was written). At that time, he led the team in scoring. If you count goals in CONCACAF Champions League, he still leads the team in goals. The big issue for Nemeth is he may not fit the way this team wants to play. I advocated for him to return long before he actually did. Based on the last three months of the season, I may have been wrong. Who knows what the final weeks of the season hold but Nemeth currently makes north of $1 million and that’s way too much for a guy who can’t get on the field. If you make me decide today, he won’t be back in 2020.

Verdict: Decline his Option

Erik Hurtado

A big reason Nemeth is on the bubble is his salary and his production. Or more accurately, his salary in relation to his production. In recent weeks, Hurtado is the starter at center forward and he’s already nabbed a couple goals. On top of that he works like Vermes wants a CF to work. He’s physical. He makes lots of dangerous runs. And he just works hard. All that while only having a guaranteed compensation of $181,250 for 2019. Bring him back even if he isn’t going to be the starter in the future.

Verdict: Pick up his Option

Gerso Fernandes

He is the highest paid player on this list not named Nemeth. It’s arguable, despite him only scoring one goal in 2019 MLS play, that he’s the team MVP. The team is just different when Gerso isn’t on the field. He makes dangerous runs and his speed generally stretches the field pulling defenses out of position. His salary in 2019 is $550,008 which puts him in the TAM salary range (meaning on an old SKC team he would be a Designated Player). Despite that, he should come back. He definitely plays up to his wage.

Verdict: Pick up his Option

Gedion Zelalem

Zelalem is maybe the toughest of these players to figure out. He was starting for a while but now he’s either missing from the 18 or with the Swope Park Rangers. That’s fine if his salary is going to stay at the $77,917 he made in 2019. But reports are he is due to a big raise. How big is that raise? If it’s too big, he could be gone on that alone. Or maybe SKC pick up his option just to sell him. Conceivably he could be fifth or deeper on the depth chart in the midfield behind at least Ilie, Espinoza, Gutierrez and Busio. That doesn’t count if Feilhaber returns, Yohan Croizet* or even Jimmy Medranda.

Verdict: Depends on wages and who else is brought back

Graham Smith

Smith still has two years left on his very inexpensive rookie deal. Lately his production is better than Fontas, who makes more than $1 million in wages. Smith only made $57,225 in 2019. How do you not bring him back? I’ve been holding out hope he’s the next Besler (but from Colorado). He started slow, but is working hard and learning everyday. If PV can keep unearthing guys like that from the draft, it’s an advantage no one else in the league may have.

Verdict: Pick up his Option

Adrian Zendejas & Eric Dick

Both backup goalkeepers have regressed in 2019. It could be that they basically only get minutes with the Swope Park Rangers and the Rangers are having their worst season in club history. Zendejas has also dealt with an injury off and on over the summer. I think it’s possible that one of the goalkeepers doesn’t come back in 2020. If you make me choose only one, I’d keep Zendejas. He’s better with his feet (Dick’s fatal flaw) even if Dick is a slightly better shot stopper. Both keepers are cheap. Zendejas makes $70,250 and Dick makes $73,700.

Dick has also been loaned out to the Tulsa Roughnecks (once) where he had a very tough outing. When compared to the keepers on SPR, John Pulskamp, who is just 18, has had a better season than both Dick and Zendejas statistically. It really comes down to if Kansas City sees either or both of these guys as long term solutions. If Pulskamp is signed with SPR through 2020, I’d keep them both. If he isn’t, it’s possible he needs a first team deal to stay in KC.

Verdict: Keep Zendejas, if needed decline Dick’s option

*Yohan has mutually agreed to part ways with Sporting KC since this story was originally written.


November 8, 2019 Update:

Two plus months later and most of these are easy to stand by. Wallace and Hasler are gone in my book. Nemeth and Feilhaber are probably paid too much for their production. If Benny took a big pay cut, I’d be open to him staying, but why should he? Gerso is still solidly a keep for me too.

Where I’ve changed my tune is on Gedion Zelalem and maybe Graham Smith. Zelalem apparently got into some sort of ordeal with Yohan Croizet. Croizet is gone. Zelalem could be right behind him. The fact that he never played for SKC again and played sparingly for SPR makes me think he has one foot out the door. And it would be easy to just decline his option and move on.

As for Graham Smith, I’d still keep him, but I’m not sure PV will. Since this story was originally published he was slaughtered by the LA Galaxy for seven goals and he was part of a Swope Park defense that allowed eight unanswered goals against Louisville City. If Vermes holds Smith accountable for that, he could be gone. That said, I’d still keep him because he’s cheap and if the team adds a CB he should be 5th on the depth chart and he can have another season in the USL Championship to develop.

As for the goalkeepers, I’m in the same spot. Dick had that awful 6-0 beat down at the hands of FC Dallas in his first MLS start, though it was hardly his fault. But if Vermes doesn’t see him as a long-term solution or if he wants to move Pulskamp (or another unknown keeper) to the first team, Dick is the more expendable keeper.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.