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Best and Worst Sporting KC Contract Values in 2021

With the release of the 2021 MLSPA salary data, it’s time to talk about who is making too much or too little.

MLS: Austin FC at Sporting Kansas City Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports

When the full 2021 MLSPA Salary Data was released in May, the analysis started immediately. Who is getting paid too much? Who is on a really good contract? But The Blue Testament focuses on Kansas City soccer, so let’s drill down specifically on Sporting Kansas City. For their full data, head over here.

Best Values

Let’s start out being positive.

Gianluca Busio - $127,504

Without a doubt this is the best deal on the team. He’s first on the team in minutes played (1,152) but his contribution is much bigger than that. He’s already played all three midfield spots and striker this season. In prior years he’s played left wing too. I have no doubt if they asked him to play RW or fullback he could do that too. Hell, he might even be able to be a ball playing CB like Ilie (though he’d be a liability in the air). #CloneBusio

Before the season I asked Peter Vermes about plans to use the newly announced U-22 Initiative (Young Money) and he said he already has a bunch of guys that fit that profile on the roster. No doubt Busio is first on that list. Another club is about to pay a multi-million dollar transfer fee to get him and if SKC brought in a player of his pedigree for a big fee everyone would be thrilled. It’s arguable he’s the MVP of the team so far and if he doesn’t get loaned back for the duration of the 2021 season it’ll be a huge blow.

Daniel Salloi - $456,667

When the initial data came out and it was discovered that at some point Daniel had gotten a big raise, there was worry if Salloi was worth it. He’s proven that’s not of any concern at all. He’s third in all of MLS in goals scored and leads Sporting KC in that category. He’s in the same spot when you add in assists with the goals but he closes the gap behind Chicharito and Raul Ruidiaz to just one (he’s three behind in goals). If this was a Designated Player with this production, no one would complain. But Daniel isn’t even on a Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) deal.

I asked him in a post-game presser what his plans were long-term and he confirmed he’s already signed through 2022. I later confirmed with the team he signed a new contract at some point that kicked in for 2020 and runs through 2022 with no option years. If the deal had been announced at the time, fans would have crowed (they crowed well into this season). Now it looks like a really smart piece of business. Kudos to Peter for believing in Daniel and to Salloi for performing above his deal.

Alan Pulido - $2.2 million

Stick with me here for a second. Sure, that’s a big salary (with an even bigger transfer fee) but he’s been worth it. When he plays the team is really good. Obviously, he has to stay healthy to be a good value. He was dealing with a nasty foot injury before leaving to join Mexico for national team duty for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Since he’s joined Sporting KC, Pulido has 0.92 G+A per 90. It’s dipped slightly since it was 0.99 back in May when it was the best in all of MLS. But that’s still fantastic and just short of providing a goal or assist every game.

Felipe Hernandez - $81,375

Homegrown players are often great deals. Especially when they play. Felipe Hernandez has stepped up and started four straight, playing all 90 minutes, since replacing Remi Walter who went down injured against Austin FC. Not only is he on a smoking hot deal, but he’s playing really well. He scored his first ever goal a few weeks back, he forced the turnover that led to the game winner against the LA Galaxy last time out and he’s bagged a couple assists this season too. He’s headed towards career highs in everything (he’s already there in goals and assists) in 2021 and he highlights how bad of a deal some of these other midfield contracts are in comparison. The path to the pros is real and it’s starting to really pay off.

Jaylin Lindsey - $94,547

A fourth and final Homegrown on this list (just Pulido isn’t one). He has eight starts and 11 appearances as he’s battled Graham Zusi for the starting RB job. Lindsey went down injured recently but even if he was a backup just barely getting minutes it’s a great contract. When he fully takes the starting job, the deal will be that much better. If Lindsey sticks around MLS he’s so young he could break tons of records based on how early he’s become a starter in his career. It’s likely he’ll try out Europe at some point but at least he’s signed through 2022 pending his option being picked up.

Worst Values

First, before anyone gets upset, this is based on what has happened in 2021 so far. Most of these guys have the chance to redeem themselves. We’ll start with one that probably won’t.

Roberto Puncec - $575,000

Puncec went from being a regular, if not shaky, starter in 2020 to barely getting on the field this year. He’s got two appearances, one start and just 85 minutes. Vermes chose to play an unproven rookie in Kaveh Rad over Puncec on multiple occasions (four appearances, two starts and 215 minutes). Puncec will probably be the next player to request to be transferred (Botond Barath) or have his contract “mutually terminated” (Yohan Croizet) so he can go play somewhere else as he’s buried on the depth chart behind three CBs (Fontas, Isimat-Mirin and Rad) and a defensive midfielder (Ilie).

Nicolas Isimat-Mirin - $1,028,124

Calm down! This is based only on 2021 production. Isi is the 4th highest paid player on the team (behind Pulido, Russell and Fontas). And he’s only played 154 minutes (three appearances, one start). He went down against Orlando City in the second game only just returned late in LA.

Part of him not playing could be that Ilie Sanchez has been so good at CB and they didn’t need to rush Isi back. He’s probably going to get his chance to earn this deal as Busio is away with the United States for the Gold Cup which may cause Ilie to move back to the midfield. Hell, Busio may never play in an SKC jersey again (just let that sink in).

Fontas was consistently on this list and he’s been great in 2021. Let’s hope Isi plays his way off this list in the coming weeks.

Remi Walter - $650,000

Both of SKC’s “big” 2021 signings? Yeah, Walter has disappointed so far, but much like Isimat-Mirin he can play his way off this list. He’s played more than Isi (nine appearances, five starts, 422 minutes) but he’s been less than impressive. When Walter starts, SKC are just 1-2-2 on the year. They only have three losses total, so the fact that two of them came when Walter starts is not ideal.

For comparison in Hernandez’s four starts the team is 3-1-0. It could be argued the team was less in a rhythm early in the year than they are now but it’s hard to say Walter played as well as Hernandez, who makes a fraction of Walter’s deal. With such a small sample size for Walter, he can easily play up to the value of this deal with more minutes and quality play in the future. He’s just got to get healthy and somehow fight through all these guys that appear to be ahead of him on the depth chart.

Johnny Russell - $1.6 million

Hear me out! Russell has not been himself in 2021. Arguably, he wasn’t quite himself in 2020 (who was, right?). He finally got a goal against the Galaxy but before that he was both struggling to stay on the field due to health and underperforming when he was on the field. When you are one of three Designated Players on the roster, you have to be better. All three DPs have struggled with injuries at times this year but when Pulido and Gadi Kinda have been back in, they’ve performed.

When you have the second best record in all of Major League Soccer, it’s hard to find “bad values,” so I’m reaching a bit.

No 5th Player

I considered a few guys here. Graham Zusi makes $713,333 but when he has played he’s been pretty sensational. I thought about Khiry Shelton, who makes $650,000 and isn’t a starter anymore. But he’s a valuable rotational guy who has contributed significantly despite his flaws. A few years ago his deal is “bad” but in today’s MLS you can have backups making that kind of money.

No one else was really up for consideration. There are a bunch of young players on cheap deals who don’t play (but may in the future). Even Graham Smith, who hasn’t played (and probably won’t without lots of injuries) doesn’t make anything so it’s hard to call the deal bad.

What do you think? Who should or shouldn’t be on this list? Join the discussion in the comments.