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Sporting KC’s Vermes on Reid Returning, Gutierrez’s Contract, CCL, Transfer Targets and More

Plus other nuance from PV’s press conference from Wednesday.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Sporting Kansas City Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, Sporting Kansas City announced roster moves for over half of their previously signed players, including the decision to let Matt Besler leave in free agency. Among those announced moves were players Winston Reid and Felipe Gutierrez, but there is more to the story.

Winston Reid Negotiations are Ongoing

In the original press release, Sporting KC indicated they had declined the option on Winston Reid’s contract. However, it’s more complicated than that. His “option” was an option to buy from the loan he was on via West Ham United from the English Premier League. Despite declining that option, SKC Head Coach and Sporting Director Peter Vermes indicated negotiations were ongoing.

“We didn’t exercise the option for a very specific reason,” said Vermes. “We’ll continue to try and have some type of discussions with West Ham to see if it’s feasible to bring the player back.”

When asked for clarification on the “very specific reason,” Vermes answered part of a different question and everyone moved on. If I had to guess, it’s because the transfer fee could immediately make Winston Reid a Designated Player. This is a complicated move because the team already has quite a few players that could fill the DP role (Pulido, Kinda, Russell and maybe Gutierrez — more on that in a second).

If Reid were available on a free transfer, there are still complicating matters of his salary. In 2020 he reportedly earned $4.6 million, though SKC were rumored to be paying about 15 percent of that — in the neighborhood of $700,000. Transfermarkt has Reid signed to WHU through the summer of 2023. Even if Sporting could get him on a free transfer (and who knows if they can), why would he take a massive pay cut to come to MLS? It seems even if he doesn’t play in England, he’ll get his huge salary to ride the bench or go out on loan elsewhere.

One possibility that was brought up to me on Twitter was ‘what if Sporting could enter into a new loan agreement’ similar to the last one? That would certainly be more palatable as there is no doubt Reid is a very good player and more time in the system and more time working with his teammates should only continue to show that class. Outside of that, I’d be surprised if Reid returns.

More on Gutierrez

As we originally speculated yesterday, at Felipe Gutierrez’s initial signing it was reported that he had a 2021 contract option year held by the team. That was later confirmed to be true and reports are that the team did in fact decline that option and are continuing to negotiation to bring back Gutierrez.

If you think about it, that makes a lot of sense because he’s been injured just short of half the time he’s been in KC. In the last known salary information from 2019 (2020 info won’t be released per the MLSPA), Gutierrez made $1.65 million. At the time he was the team’s highest paid player, but it’s widely speculated Alan Pulido now fills that roll. I would suspect the team is trying to negotiate to bring him back on a cheaper deal, though there is the possibility they would look to add more years. Players are often never the same after a catastrophic injury though, so that’s something to have in mind if Gutierrez is asking for more years to reduce his salary. At the end of 2019 he indicated he wanted to stay in Kansas City for four or five more years.

I’d like to see Gutierrez come back but doing so at a cheaper rate seems like smart business. Maybe putting incentives into his deal around playing a certain number of games or minutes could allow him to recoup any potential lost earnings because he’s certainly worth his cost when he’s healthy.

Transfer Targets

It wouldn’t be an end of year press conference if PV wasn’t asked about potential transfer targets in the international market. However, he gave what’s become his standard answer over the last few years about always looking to improve the team. When asked about a potential position of need, he said, “years ago I might have pinpointed one specific position but it’s really, really hard to do that anymore.”

Vermes went on to talk about teams in MLS being less willing to trade their players and he somewhat dismissed that COVID-19 had an impact on that (though I can’t imagine it didn’t). And he also talked about using the Academy to fill more roles, as opposed to the MLS Super Draft, in years past.

The answer strikes me as being cautious. Surely there are players that Vermes would like to upgrade but, in this weird transfer market you never know what kind of movement will happen. Better to be vague than to alienate a player that he sees as deficient in case the team has to run out the same player in that spot next year.

Injury Updates on Pulido and Kinda

In what I had long been speculating was the case, PV subtly confirmed some injury news when talking about his team’s performance during the playoffs. He reeled off a list of players that were unavailable like the usual cast of character Graham Zusi, Felipe Gutierrez and Matt Besler then he hesitated and included Alan Pulido. Reports came before the Minnesota United game that ‘maybe Pulido was being saved for the Seattle Sounders game.’ However, it was later reported he wouldn’t have been able to start then either and instead maybe could have come off the bench.

PV also confirmed that Gadi Kinda wasn’t fully fit which ties into my narrative about the team’s highest paid players not being available at a critical time in the year. No one likes excuses, and I by no means think that was Peter’s intention, but at least this is a good one in my book.

Roles for Players like Smith and Salloi in 2021

Some folks were probably surprised to see Graham Smith and Daniel Salloi returning for 2021. Smith made just four starts and Salloi only got into seven games (1 start, 165 minutes). However, Vermes declined to talk about any specific players when asked, instead shifting the conversation to the burden being on the player to get better.

He talked about not having a “crystal ball” or knowing the future. It’s up to the player to put in the work and it starts right away. The offseason is again short and player must show up to preseason prepared to win a job and in shape. If players put in the work, they can surpass their teammates and break through. If they don’t, they can fall further down the depth chart.

This answer, and others during the press conference, gave some indication as to why some players aren’t on the field. We speculate that it must be something happening in practice we aren’t seeing and answers like that seem to reinforce that narrative.

Are Sporting KC in the CCL?

There is some speculation that Sporting KC could end up back in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) in 2021. In 2019 that was a disaster as they started hot, getting through four games and advancing twice, but they were demolished by Monterrey and it possibly hamstrung their season.

When asked about it in the presser, Vermes didn’t address it directly but the way the question was asked and his answer seemed to indicate it’s not yet been determined who has the fourth bid. The Philadelphia Union get the one for the Supporters Shield, Portland Timbers get the MLS is Back bid (which has been changed to the US Open Cup bid since it wasn’t played) and whoever wins MLS Cup between Seattle Sounders and the Columbus Crew get the third. The fourth often goes to the opposite conference winner (at least since 2013-14 when the MLS Cup runner-up last got it), which would be Sporting KC. Or if it comes down to who was second in point per game, that’s also SKC (Toronto FC are excluded as a Canadian team).

[Thanks to our own Mike Kuhn, as always, for a great explanation on this. Follow him on Twitter, seriously. It’s worth getting an account. It’ll keep you more in the know than I ever could.]

Negotiating Midseason

One last topic that came up during the press conference was why so many players were in negotiations and extensions weren’t worked out during the season. Vermes indicated he like to negotiate before or after the season, or even potentially early in preseason, but not during the season.

That got me wondering if that was true as I seem to recall re-signings happening during the season over the last few years. I did a little digging.

In recent years, it’s a little bit of both. Late in 2018, when SKC signed Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza and Ilie Sanchez to extensions, that came in September. Also in 2018, Seth Sinovic got an extension during the playoffs. At the beginning of that season, Ike Opara, Tim Melia and Daniel Salloi got extensions at the tail end of the preseason.

I can’t recall any re-signings in 2019 or 2020 during the season, so perhaps this is a shift in philosophy. 2018 was a pretty dang good year, but it ended somewhat disappointingly. Perhaps Vermes perceived the contract talks that happened during the year as a distraction or by way of extending some players, others were coming up to him during the season (that is the year the team added Andreu Fontas and that set into motion the Ike Opara saga).

I have no problem with holding off on negotiations but the MLS offseason kicks into high gear after MLS Cup so talks will need to move quickly to avoid losing players to free agency or the many “drafts” that are about to take place.

The Blue Testament will continue to bring you more information through what is sure to be a hectic offseason with the regular season set to start in March and potentially preseason as early as January.