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Can You Really Go Home Again?

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Another former Sporting KC player returns to the club. How has it gone for the previous players that returned?

Sporting Kansas City v Philadelphia Union Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

Oriol Rosell upon his return to Kansas City said he was really happy to be back home in reference to his first stint with Kansas City back from 2012 through 2014. During that time, Rosell appeared in forty-three league games plus another six in the playoffs. He scored two goals, added two assists, and won two trophies, a US Open Cup in 2012 and the 2013 MLS Cup. With his return to Kansas City now, he became the fourteenth player to leave Kansas City for at least a year and return to the club. So, the question is, can you really come home? How have the other players who have left Kansas City and come back fared upon their return to Kansas City over the years?

For this I only looked at players who not only played for another team but were gone for at least a year. This means that there will be no Kei Kamara, who left Kansas City ahead of the 2013 season to join Norwich City on loan until the end of the Premier League season. It also means no Seth Sinovic, who was selected by the Montreal Impact in their expansion draft but was very quickly after traded back to Kansas City, and no Tim Melia who had joined KC as a pool goalkeeper before leaving at the end of the season and then being re-signed to the roster.

Matt McKeon

First stint: 1996-1998

Second stint: 2000-2002

The first pick in the 1996 College Draft by the Kansas City Wiz, McKeon made sixty-five appearances in league play over his three seasons during his first stint, scoring four goals and adding two assists. McKeon was traded to the Colorado Rapids after the 1998 season in exchange for Chris Henderson.

He was reacquired a year later along with Peter Vermes for Scott Vermillion, an allocation, and draft picks. In his second stint with KC, McKeon made seventy-nine appearances over three seasons, scoring nine goals, and adding fifteen assists. He helped anchor the midfield in 2000 with Kerry Zavagnin that won MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield that year. He also made twelve playoff appearances, scoring twice, and adding an assist during his return to KC.

Diego Gutierrez

First stint: 1996-1997

Second stint: 2002-2005

Gutierrez was Kansas City’s second round pick in the 1996 College Draft and made twenty-eight appearances with four assists in the 96 season. He missed the entire 1997 season after tearing his ACL and then was selected by the Chicago Fire in the league’s first expansion draft after the 1997 season.

Gutierrez returned to Kansas City ahead of the 2002 season via a trade with the Fire. Gutierrez went on to make ninety-one appearances over four seasons with Kansas City, scoring four goals and adding nine assists. He was also named the club’s captain part way through the 2004 season and lifted the US Open Cup in 2004 as captain, helping lead the team to MLS Cup that year and losing the Supporters’ Shield on a tiebreaker.

Preki

First stint: 1996-2000

Second stint: 2002-2005

The face of the early Kansas City teams, Preki won MVP in 1997, scoring twelve goals and adding seventeen assists that year. Overall, in his first stint with the club, Preki appeared 140 times, scored fifty goals and had sixty-seven assists in league play. He helped the club do the MLS Cup/Supporters’ Shield double in 2000. After the 2000 season, Preki was traded to the Miami Fusion for a third-round draft pick in 2002 that was eventually used on Chris Brunt, and an allocation when Preki retired. Not a trade that really worked out in KC’s favor.

Preki returned to Kansas City after one season in Miami as the Fusion were contracted and the league held a dispersal draft at the end of the season. He proceeded to play seventy-three more league games over four more seasons, winning a second MVP award (still the only MLS player to win two MVPs) in 2003 at the age of forty. He scored another twenty-one goals and added another thirty assists over those four seasons. Unfortunately, an injury in preseason in 2004 limited his playing for the club his last two seasons.

Josh Wolff

First stint: 2003-2006

Second stint: 2008-2010

Acquired in 2003 from the Chicago Fire in exchange for the Wizards’ first round pick in the 2003 MLS Superdraft, a pick Chicago used to select Nate Jaqua, Wolff spent four seasons with KC during his first stint. Wolff made eighty appearances for KC in those four years, scoring twenty-seven goals, and adding twenty assists, including 2005 when he reached double digits in both. After the 2006 season, Wolff transferred to Europe, joining 1860 Munich for a season and a half.

In the summer of 2008, after his contract in Germany expired, Wolff returned to KC, playing two and a half more seasons for KC. Wolff scored sixteen goals and had six assists for KC while playing sixty-four times during his second stint with the club.

Shavar Thomas

First stint: 2004-2006

Second stint: 2010-2011

Thomas joined Kansas City in 2004 in a trade that sent Eric Quill and Carey Talley to Dallas. Thomas became an important part of KC’s center back rotation during his time with KC, getting time next to both Nick Garcia and Jimmy Conrad at the center back position at different times. During his first stint with KC, he made seventy-six appearances, added two goals, and an assist. Before being traded to the LA Galaxy for a second-round draft pick. The Galaxy fairly quickly turned around and traded him to Chivas USA.

Kansas City reacquired Thomas in 2010 when the center of defense was in a rough spot with Pablo Escobar gone from the club, Aaron Hohlbein falling down the depth chart, and Matt Besler not having reached the heights he would reach for the club. KC sent two second round draft picks in 2011 (used by Columbus on Cole Grossman) and 2012 (used on Ray Gaddis) to the Philadelphia Union along with allocation money to acquire Thomas. Thomas would start sixteen of KC’s final eighteen games after the trade in 2010. In 2011 though with the additions of Aurelien Collin and Julio Cesar to play center back along with Besler, Thomas made just three appearances in league play, all as a substitute on KC’s long road trip to start the season. He remained with the team through the end of the season though.

Roger Espinoza

First stint: 2008-2012

Second stint: 2015-2021(?)

Drafted in the first round of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, Espinoza took a little while to get his feet under him and really find his spot on the field for KC during his first stint. He spent most of his time on the left wing or at left back for KC until 2011 when he transitioned into a midfield role for KC where he flourished. Espinoza made 113 appearances in his first stint, adding two goals and eleven assists to go along with his winners’ medal from the 2012 US Open Cup. After stellar performances in the 2012 London Olympics, interest from English teams really increased in Espinoza, whose contract ended after the 2012 season. He ended up signing with Wigan Athletic and joined them in January 2013.

Espinoza returned to KC in 2015 after he parted ways with Wigan. Upon his return, Espinoza slotted back into the midfield, appearing 173 times for the club since returning. He’s added two more winners’ medals from the Open Cup in 2015 and 2017. He’s added eight goals and twenty-eight assists for KC during his second run with the club.

Lawrence Olum

First stint: 2011-2014

Second stint: 2016

Olum joined Kansas City as a roster freeze deadline signing in September of 2011, making just one appearance that season for the club. During his first stint though, Olum would make sixty-six appearances for the club over his three and a half years during his first stint. He also added three goals and two assists during that time. He also played a big role in KC’s MLS Cup 2013 win, coming on as a very early substitute for the recently returned Rosell.

After a season in Malaysia Olum returned to Kansas City for the 2016 season. Olum made nineteen appearances in his one season back with Kansas City, scoring two goals and adding one assist. In the offseason Olum was traded to the Portland Timbers for allocation money and a first-round pick KC used to select Graham Smith.

Soony Saad

First stint: 2011-2014

Second stint: 2017

Saad was acquired in via a weighted lottery halfway through the 2011 season as he signed with the league after the season had started. He made fifty-eight appearances, though less than half of them were starts for the team. He scored eight goals and added six assists. After the 2014 season Saad moved to Thailand for a couple of seasons.

Saad re-signed with KC for the 2017 season. In his second stint with Kansas City, Saad was limited to just twelve appearances for the club and recorded just one assist before he was waived at the end of the season.

Igor Juliao

First stint: 2014

Second stint: 2017

Juliao joined Sporting KC on loan after impressing with Fluminense’s U23 team at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in the 2014 preseason. He ended up being the only loan to Kansas City from Fluminense during what was KC’s partnership with the Brazilian club. With injuries hitting KC’s back line in 2014, Juliao made twenty-three appearances for the club and recorded two assists. At the end of the season Juliao’s loan expired and he returned to Brazil.

In 2017 Juliao returned to Kansas City, again on loan from Fluminense. His time in 2017 didn’t go anywhere near as well as Juliao made just one appearance for the club, a 45-minute appearance on the road against Minnesota United. He was waived in late June as the club made room on the roster to eventually bring in Cristian Lobato.

Krisztian Nemeth

First stint: 2015

Second stint: 2018-2019

Signed ahead of the 2015 season for KC, Nemeth looked like he was living up to some of the high expectations set for him as a youth player. He made twenty-eight league appearances, scored ten goals, and added six assists. He also added five goals in the US Open Cup as KC won the competition that year. Wanting a larger contract with KC, the club negotiated with him but were unable to make a deal and Nemeth left for Qatar.

After close to two years in Qatar, Nemeth returned to MLS, joining the New England Revolution in 2017. In the middle of 2018, KC acquired Nemeth back from the Revolution for $350,000 in allocation money and a first-round pick in the 2020 Superdraft (which New England used on Henry Kessler). Nemeth made nine appearances and scored one goal in his time in 2018 with the club. In 2019, Nemeth made another twenty-four appearances for the club, scoring eight goals and adding three assists. He also added four goals in KC’s CONCACAF Champions League run. Unfortunately for Nemeth and KC he only scored one goal and one assist after May 18th of that year.

Benny Feilhaber

First stint: 2013-2017

Second stint: 2019

KC acquired Feilhaber ahead of the 2013 season after the Revolution did not pick up his contract option. KC gave up allocation money, a 2014 first round pick (used by the Colorado Rapids on Grant Van de Casteele), and a 2015 second round pick (used by the Seattle Sounders to select Tyler Miller). In his five years with Kansas City, Feilhaber made 150 appearances in league play for the club, scored twenty-nine goals and added forty-one assists. He won an MLS Cup (2013) and two US Open Cups (2015, 2017) with the club, and was an MVP finalist in 2015 when he scored ten goals and added fifteen assists in league play.

Ahead of the 2018 season, KC traded Feilhaber to Los Angeles FC for $400,000 in allocation money. He spent the 2018 season there and moved to the Rapids in 2019. In May of that year as Sporting’s season was going to wrong direction, the club sent Abdul Rwatubyaye, an international roster spot for the rest of the season, $50,000 in TAM, and a second-round pick in the 2020 Superdraft (used on Robin Afamefuna) to the Rapids in exchange for Feilhaber as a season-ending injury replacement for Rodney Wallace. Feilhaber made seventeen appearances for KC over the remainder of the season, scoring two goals and adding two assists. He retired at the end of the season and after a period as an assistant coach at UCLA, returned to KC again to be part of KC’s technical staff and then coach of the club’s U17 academy team.

Amadou Dia

First stint: 2015-2016

Second stint: 2020-2021

Drafted in the first round of the 2015 Superdraft, Dia was the third first round pick that year along with Connor Hallisey and Saad Abdul-Salaam. He made twenty-two appearances in his rookie year, winning the starting left back from Seth Sinovic for periods of time throughout the year. He made another ten appearances in 2016 before being traded in the middle of the year to the Montreal Impact for Cameron Porter.

Dia moved to the USL and played with Phoenix Rising after finishing out the 2016 season with Montreal. Ahead of the 2020 season Kansas City brought Dia back to Sporting to compete with Luis Martins for the left back spot. In the craziness that was the 2020 season, Dia did win the starting left back job over Martins by the end of the season and ended up making twelve appearances in 2020. In 2021 though, Martins took over the starting left back job from Dia and held onto it the entire season. Did made just four appearances in 2021 and had his contract option declined at the end of the season.

Khiry Shelton

First stint: 2018

Second stint: 2020-present

Kansas City acquired Shelton in the offseason before the 2018 season in exchange for Abdul-Salaam. He ended up making twenty appearances for Kansas City in his one season in his first stint with the club. He scored two goals and added five assists during his time with KC. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Shelton signed a contract to join SC Paderborn 07 in the German second division.

After just one whole year in Germany, Shelton returned to the US and re-signed with Kansas City. Since his return to KC, Shelton has made fifty-one appearances for the club, scoring eight goals, and adding seven assists.


So, there’s certainly been a mixed bag of returns from players who have made a return to Kansas City. You have players like McKeon, Gutierrez, Preki and Espinoza who have been key contributors for the club upon their return. Meanwhile you have players like Olum, Saad, and Juliao whose second times in Kansas City didn’t reach the level of their first time with the club. You even have some players like Thomas, Nemeth, and Dia, whose second stint with the club started pretty well but faded quickly.

Where will Rosell fall in the grand scheme of things when it comes to returning “home” to Kansas City? We’ll find out this coming year depending on the role Peter Vermes expects from the Spaniard.