Following a disappointing end to the 2021 playoff campaign, Sporting Kansas City looks to be ready to retool the defense and bring in fresh faces to revamp the team. Several starters are gone, including Ilie Sanchez and Luis Martins. Peter Vermes has a lot of work ahead of him before February. MLS Free Agency has quite a bit of potential if the team can lure these guys in and the various drafts offer interesting mechanics to bring in other players.
Defense will be the primary concern this offseason. Sporting decided to decline options on both left backs, Luis Martins and Amadou Dia, leaving some fans stunned that Vermes would enter the offseason without a safety net. On Sunday, Sporting decided to trade Jaylin Lindsey to Charlotte FC sending the youngster back to his hometown.
With Zusi unsigned, Kayden Pierre remains the only wingback on the roster. Given all the other changes, Vermes has just four defenders left on the roster with Andreu Fontas, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Pierre, and Kaveh Rad under contract. Fans are generally assuming Graham Zusi will sign a new contract with the team as well, but that still leaves a lot of work.
Gudmundur Thorarinsson just won MLS Cup and has now had his option declined by New York City. The 29-year-old left back notched two goals and 2 assists in MLS play this year and another two assists in the playoffs. He won’t break the bank in Kansas City, but would be easy to pencil in as the preseason starter over most of the available players within MLS.
Donny Toia is a versatile left back that can get involved in the attack much like Martins did. He has been a consistent starter for MLS clubs including Montreal and RSL but has once again found himself on the move. If the price is right, the 29-year-old free agent could be a solid addition. He may not be the marquee signing fans will want, but he’s a starting quality left back that could easily be made a backup given the salary he should get.
Alvas Powell has bounced around MLS since leaving the Timbers in 2018 but could be a solid right back option for Vermes. If he’s healthy enough to play regularly he’s a no brainer to consider as a potential replacement and/or rival to Zusi. At 27, he should have enough left in the tank to play a few seasons. If Zusi doesn’t return, Powell would be an easy inclusion in the squad with the aim of getting 18-year-old Kayden Pierre fully ready for MLS.
Ben Sweat is a player that has been talked up around the league, but never made a huge impact. He’s got the potential to be a massive star, but without the body of work he could come cheap as a left back to be the #2 as we look for a better option elsewhere. He’s the type of low risk, high reward speculative player Vermes goes after.
If fans want a speculative player to gamble on, Kortne Ford is the guy. He’s a former SKC academy player with a heartbreaking, yet amazing story of adversity and success. He was declined by the Colorado Rapids and would be a massive addition for center back depth who looked ready to start in MLS during his recent USL stints. Colorado is currently in negotiations so this might be a long shot, but definitely an option to consider.
Other Positions of Need
Daniel Royer found himself out of favor with the New York Red Bulls and wound up losing his starting role before being cut loose in 2021. Prior to the Covid Season in 2020, he had three straight 10 goal campaigns. Many would argue he was the best Red Bull on the roster in 2019. As SKC look to add depth at wing, in midfield, and as a backup forward, Royer could be that utility player, but I doubt he comes cheap enough to be a realistic option or would be happy playing off the bench. His primary position is also left wing which puts him in a battle with Salloi for the starting role, but he could realistically be a backup for Pulido, Kinda, and Salloi that has a history of getting on the score sheet.
Much like Royer, Jesus Medina could be a nice utility player in the current 4-3-3 as he can play either wing and attacking midfield making him a backup in a lot of positions and capable of stepping up and starting when injuries and absences occur. If Salloi ends up testing the waters in Europe, or Kinda falls off over time, Medina is ready to step up and start right away.
With Ilie and Gianluca Busio gone, defensive midfield is wide open. It’s assumed that Jose Mauri is the next man up, but we didn’t see his full potential in 2021. Midseason signings don’t always have a major impact in their first year. The team has tried out Walter in that spot, but he’s clearly better suited playing a box-to-box role, rather than a lynchpin. While it’s not the most pressing need, Scott Caldwell is out of contract with New England and could be a nice veteran to bring in to compete for the starting role and fall back on if Mauri doesn’t pan out.
Erick “Cubo” Torres is the former wonderkid that scored 15 goals for Chivas USA and then got a big head and tried to make a go of it in Mexico, returned to Houston and put up a 14-goal season, then tried Mexico again. His most recent stint in MLS has been with Atlanta United where he has just a single goal since 2020. He also failed to lock down the starting role in the absence of an injured Josef Martinez. It might seem crazy to list Torres as a potential target, but in Vermes’ system he might have a slight resurgence as a backup for the oft-injured Alan Pulido. His salary has dropped from over $200k a year to around league minimum which is the primary reason to consider him on a 1-year deal.
Most of this article has focused on adding depth at positions of need because the starting forwards and mids appear to have a lot of chemistry and are getting results, but if SKC is serious about making a huge splash in free agency, there are three names that almost any team in MLS would love to pry away from their clubs as free agents. Sebastion Blanco, Maxi Moralez, and Albert Rusnak are eligible for free agency and out of contract. All three are currently negotiating with their respective clubs for new deals. For as much as SKC and fans love Gadi Kinda, he could easily play a smaller role if it means bringing in one of these playmakers to current midfield. If pressed, the weakest link in a very strong attacking group over the last two years has been Kinda.
Expansion Draft Trade Potential
With the expansion draft coming up, there is also the possibility that Sporting could trade for an unprotected player from Charlotte. Charlotte only gets five picks, and we would have to make it worth their while not to take these players for their squad.
Romain Metanire was left unprotected by Minnesota and makes re-signing Zusi less of a priority. The same could be said of trading for Anton Tinnerholm who was left available by NYCFC. Either of these players fill the need at Right Back and offer similar offensive capabilities as Zusi, but they are younger.
The Vancouver Whitecaps have left a pair of center backs available for selection in Erik Godoy and Derek Cornelius. Godoy is older and more proven, while Cornelius offers a lot athletically. Either would be a good backup to add to the roster with Cornelius being more like Isimat-Mirin.
The steal in the expansion draft will be Erik Lopez. He has a current market value just over $2 million as a 9. He’s still raw, but he’s got potential to grow into a premier striker to to be sold for a nice profit.
There’s another utility midfielder that could be gotten, much like Royer and Medina. Jared Stroud is primarily a left winger but can serve as a 10 when needed. He’s only 25, with lots of upside and has a 12 goal campaign to his credit already. He’s seen less of the field since his sophomore season, but there is potential to be had.
Vermes has a history of making some really great signings, but his free agent selections have been largely lackluster since free agency was implemented. This could be the year to turn it around with plenty of options available. Sporting historically hasn’t been the team to work out draft day trades to acquire players, but this could be the year things change.