The Major League Soccer offseason has already kicked into gear with a half-day trade window the morning after MLS Cup and the Expansion Draft for incoming team Austin FC set for Tuesday. Sporting Kansas City are exempt from that, so things could start to get really interesting starting on Wednesday, December 16th.
Wednesday marks the day Waivers begin, Free Agency opens and the next day Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft kicks off. On Monday, MLS released the current list of available players for all three mechanisms.
It may have shocked fans to see names like Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez and Erik Hurtado (did Gerso already get re-signed?) on that list from Sporting KC (and frankly, Matt Besler still feels shocking as it’s hard to believe he’ll be gone). Before you panic, that doesn’t mean KC can’t bring back any of those players before free agency opens.
However, we are currently in a blackout period until Austin FC finishes their expansion draft. Between the end of the draft Tuesday and the start of Free Agency and Waivers on Wednesday, SKC can bring back players like Espinoza, Gutierrez and Huratdo — all of whom they are currently negotiating with. At the absolute bare minimum, I expect Espinoza back.
With that out of the way, let’s look at potential targets for Sporting through Free Agency (the best class in the history of the league), Waivers or the Re-Entry Draft(s). For a reminder on the rules of all those three mechanisms, we discussed that over here previously.
When factoring in who could come to Sporting, it’s good to remember a few things. First, SKC currently have 20 of their 30 roster spots filled. That includes one potential DP spot open (Johnny Russell can be bought down and Gutierrez isn’t currently signed), three international spots and spots in all phases of the roster (Senior, Supplemental and Reserve).
Also, we will have limited salary data to work with. There is no known 2020 MLS salary data so we are stuck with 2019 data, which doesn’t include any player added after that date in 2019. Also, this list is incredibly subject to change as I expect some of these players to re-join their teams before free agency (and re-entry and whatnot) start.
Before we list any players, it’s worth noting free agents can be much younger in 2020. SKC have a bad track record with aging vets (Justin Mapp, Rodney Wallace, Brad Evans), so I suspect they stay away from this category, but you never know.
Kevin Molino - Winger - Minnesota United
2019 Wages: $546,254.00
Is this a little bit because he torched Sporting KC in the playoffs? Yeah, sure. But I’ve always been a Molino guy. He is a wide midfielder who can play winger or more centrally as a creative type. He had a catastrophic knee injury in 2018 and didn’t fully get back to his winning ways until 2020. In a shortened season he has 18 appearances, 15 starts, 1,264 minutes and put in nine goals (which would have led SKC) and four assists (that doesn’t count the playoffs where he put two in against KC alone). It doesn’t hurt having Emanuel Reynoso delivering balls to you.
The problems — he turned 30 over the summer and he won’t be cheap. Also, it won’t surprise me if the Loons get him re-signed before you have a chance to read this. Imagine an attack with Molino wide left (he does mostly play on the right, but he can be inverted on the left as he’s right-footed), Alan Pulido in the middle and Johnny Russell wide right with Gadi Kinda and Gianluca Busio/Felipe Gutierrez coming up the middle. Be still my heart!
Andrew Tarbell - Goalkeeper - Columbus Crew
2019 Wages: $235,000.04
A backup goalkeeper? There is some logic here, stick with me. In the 2016 MLS SuperDraft Sporting KC traded out entirely rather than pick someone they didn’t want in the first round. Who did they want? Tarbell. Robb Heineman called him a “10-year keeper [for] us” and Vermes said, “we don’t want anyone but Tarbell.”
Tarbell was taken by the San Jose Earthquakes and was traded to the Crew before the 2020 season. He’s now a bit overpaid to be a backup keeper but the team is in need with Eric Dick and Richard Sanchez both having their options declined. Sporting could always bring up someone like talented Homegrown Brooks Thompson from SKC II or they could look to add a veteran to allow Homegrown John Pulskamp to spend more time on loan in 2021. It’ll be interesting to see if PV is still infatuated. Tarbell took over for an injured Eloy Room in the 2020 playoffs and took the Crew to MLS Cup before being replaced in the final when Room returned.
Diego Fagundez - Left Winger - New England Revolution
2019 Wages: $205,000.04
Even though Fagundez has been around for what feels like forever, he’s still just 25-years-old. He has been in MLS for 10 (!) years with the Revolution and he’s had his ups and downs. He has a combined 261 appearances (186 starts) for 16,868 minutes while adding 53 goals and 45 assists.
Frankly, despite his somewhat inconsistent play, it’s odd he only made $205k with his last reported salary. If Gerso gets away or wants too much money, this isn’t the worst option. A change of scenery could do him good because he hasn’t been a regular starter since 2018. He’s also a much more creative player that could potentially combine better with the style KC play. My only concern is his defensive work rate and I haven’t watched enough Revolution games to know if he’s a PV type player.
CJ Sapong - Center Forward - Chicago Fire
2019 Wages: $475,000.08
Sapong is one of four former Sporting KC strikers (Dom Dwyer, Kei Kamara, Krisztian Nemeth) that is a free agent as of this writing. I don’t know if Vermes goes back into the well with another re-hash but he has a history of it. Of the four, Sapong’s the cheapest (Dwyer - $1,503,333.33, Kamara - $750,000.00, Nemeth - Unknown but $1,063,666.71 in 2019 for SKC) and he’d be a good change of pace backup.
Especially if the physical tank that is Erik Hurtado cashes in on his “breakout” season in his limited minutes. Sapong is, however, about to turn 32 and this feels like a band aid more than a full replacement. It would allow Khiry Shelton to play more winger (or put him at right back for his impressive work rate — do you really hate this idea?) and let Sapong split time with new signing Wilson Harris. When he was a regular starter in 2019 he scored 13 goals (and another 16 in 2017 with some down years around these).
Other SKC Players I’m Not Advocating for Coming Back:
- Dwyer: Too expensive. Bad system fit. May have burned his bridge on the way out.
- Kamara: He’s got to go to new teams to up his total team count.
- Nemeth: Attempt two didn’t work out so well.
- Jimmy Medranda: This is the toughest. Love the kid but his ceiling may have been seen and he’s just taking minutes from a deserving Homegrowns behind him. Plus, is he even healthy? He barely played in 2020. They do say it takes two years to fully recover from a knee injury though... soooo... Okay I’m considering it.
- Seth Sinovic: Come back to KC, but not on the field. Amadou Dia and Luis Martins may not be the answers at left back, but it’s not Seth.
- Kelyn Rowe: It didn’t work last time and he seems like a bad system fit.
Andrew Carleton - Midfielder - Atlanta United
2019 Wages: $97,399.96
Usually this list is a complete skip. It’s really young players which teams are usually unwilling to let go of if they have a smidge of talent. However, this feels like it’s at least worth looking into. Carleton only has 11 MLS appearances in the regular season (two starts, 229 minutes and a single assist). However, there is some real talent there. He’s still just 20 years old.
He’s spent most of his time in the USL Championship with ATL United 2 and in 2020 with Indy Eleven. He has 47 appearances (36 starts) for 3,253 minutes and he’s added eight goals and eight assists. Outside of his year with Indy, he’s mostly been on bad teams in USL too.
My only real concerns are attitude and he may not work hard enough for Peter Vermes’ liking. But he’s got talent and he’s very creative in the midfield. Taking a flyer on Carleton isn’t my worst idea ever. It wasn’t long ago it would thought he’d end up starring internationally, though that could have just been overinflated Atlanta hype.
Sporting KC have a history of taking a backup goalkeeper in the Re-Entry draft having done it quite a bit in recent years with Alec Kann (2015), Andrew Dykstra (2016) and Richard Sanchez (2019). And there are GKs on the board.
I looked up and down the Re-Entry list and I just couldn’t find any names that seemed worth the value. There is former Toronto FC DP Pablo Piatti but he’s likely pretty highly paid and frankly didn’t contribute enough (4 goal, 4 assists) to justify that spot.
There are some talented left-backs that could serve as backup to Amadou Dia if the team moved on from suddenly overpriced backup Luis Martins in Raheem Edwards (kind of a left sided player from LB to LW) and Mohamed El-Munir, but they both use up international spots.
I want to list former US International and striker Jerome Kiesewetter but he’s mostly toiled in lower divisions internationally and in the USL in the states, so it’s hard to justify him over someone like Wilson Harris who is already on the roster.
Then there are talented players like Cristian Pavon who is simply listed because his loan expired but there is just no way KC convinces him to come or can afford to pay his huge transfer fee. Keep dreaming.
In the end, I couldn’t force it. So if it’s not a back-up keeper, I don’t know who it could be.
Overall, the list of choices is just massive (until some names start re-signing before this process gets fully into gear). Who do you like from the list? Let us know in the comments below.