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Assessing Sporting KC’s Roster Flexibility this Offseason

How much money will be available to spend? How much roster space will be open. How many signings can we realistically expect to see?

MLS: US Open Cup-Sporting Kansas City at Sacramento Republic FC
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza (15) and defender Andreu Fontas (3) try to tell forward William Agada (23) he gets to kick again after having a penalty kick stopped but the Sacramento Republic goalkeeper was called for coming off the line too early at Heart Health Park.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, Sporting Kansas City’s season officially came to an end. It did so with KC missing the playoffs for the first time since 2019 and only the second time in the decade. However, the end of the season showed there is reason for optimism. Sporting KC absolutely crushed it down the stretch and would have been a menace to any team they potentially met in the playoffs.

Now the attention has to turn to improving the squad before the 2023 season. There is a very busy offseason schedule ahead and the roster moves of picking up and declining options can literally happen at any moment. The Blue Testament already broke down who we’d like to keep and who we’d like to see go, but let’s turn our attention to how much flexibility Sporting KC are likely to have to make roster improvements.

How Much Money Does Sporting Have?

Without getting super deep into the weeds, MLS operates on a Salary Budget instead of a Salary Cap. The budget for 2023 will climb to $5,210,000 but the total roster spend available for every team, not accounting for any General Allocation Money (GAM) acquired in trades and player transfers, brings that number up to $9,830,000. However, there is likely to be more than that available due to the above items.

Sporting KC spent $13.6 million on their roster as of the mid-year salary release from the MLSPA. However, keep in mind that Designated Players only counted for $612,500 in 2022 ($651,250 in 2023) against the budget, so someone like Alan Pulido who makes $2.2 million, counts for only the max number at the most. Also, U-22 players can count for as little as $150,000 but make as much as the budget max. Additionally guys not on the senior roster don’t count towards the budget, but those players tends to make lower salaries anyways.

In an effort to not write a dissertation on the MLS roster rules (today at least), let’s keep this simple.

No Free Agents Re-Signed: $2,039,611

That would be not bringing back Tim Melia, Roger Espinoza, Andreu Fontas and Felipe Hernandez. Fontas alone accounts for more than half ($1,125,000).

No Options Picked Up: $2,276,791

That would be declining options on Graham Zusi, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Khiry Shelton, Kortne Ford, Kendall McIntosh, Cam Duke and Kaveh Rad. Again, Isi is almost half at $1,028,124.

Total: $4,316,402

Obviously Sporting KC aren’t going to move on from all those players (for reasons we’ve previously detailed) and more guys could return and choose to take a pay cut to maintain a roster spot at a lower charge. But it’s a sizeable chunk of money Kansas City are going to have if they choose to make some of the bigger cuts.

How Many Roster Spots do Sporting Have?

In addition to cleaning out budgetary space, if options are declined and free agents walk, it clears room on the roster. Even before entering the offseason, KC have only 27 of a possible 30 players on their roster. They could have technically had 31 with Gadi Kinda going on the season ending injury list.

If they drop or don’t re-sign the aforementioned players from the ‘budget’ section that would clear 11 more spots. Again, it’s extremely unlikely to happen, but they could essentially turnover a bit more than a third of their roster.

Where it gets messy is who is on the senior roster and who is on the supplemental roster? MLS isn’t much help here as their roster page for KC shows four guys in a section for only two players max and other inconsistencies. So we’ll table that question.

How About International Spots?

This is a category constantly in flux because in addition to guys who could have options declined or be released, other players may acquired their green card and no longer count as an international. Right now, KC have eight players listed as internationals and teams only get eight slots (unless they trade for more).

Of those eight, Fontas and Isimat-Mirin are the only two who can be easily moved on from. Five of the remaining six just signed in the last year and are potentially further away from green card status (Thommy, Agada, Ndenbe, Tzionis and Voloder). Fontas is the longest tenured player still counting as an international (with the team since August 2018) and Kinda is the next most tenured (signed January 2020).

So it could be as little as zero and potentially up to three or so if green cards come through and guys leave.

But SKC Can Add a DP, Right?

They can! As we detailed last week, Peter Vermes confirmed the team is clearing a DP spot without losing any players. As of this moment, Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda count as Designated Players. Kinda is the most likely candidate to not count as a DP as he only makes $918,000 and if his transfer fee was allocated to the earlier years of his deal then he could be bought down with Targeted Allocation Money (TAM).

It’s important to note that if the team adds another DP, they have to be a TAMable DP or a Young DP. Meaning they can’t make more than $1,651,250 (TAMable) next year or must be 23 or younger. This is because of the U-22 Initiative (see below).

There is even a questionable rumor floating around that teams could be able to get a fourth DP based on some inside information from an LA Galaxy official. They do seem to know how to skirt the rules the best, so maybe they have some inside information, but I wouldn’t hold your breath as it seems to be based on Apple+ money and my read is team’s aren’t getting substantially more.

What about signing more U-22 Initiative Players?

The Young Money rule allows teams to sign one to three players with unlimited acquisition costs, as long as they don’t make anymore than the maximum budget charge ($651,250 in 2023). Sporting KC already have all three filled (Robert Voloder, Logan Ndenbe and Marinos Tzionis).

However, it’s possible someone like Ndenbe, the lowest paid of the three with the smallest transfer fee, could have a salary and fee low enough to be bought down with TAM and the team could sign another U-22 player. I’d say it’s unlikely, but not impossible.

On the whole, there is the potential for some real flexibility in this roster. There are a sizeable amount of deals the team can move on from as well as players. Despite missing the playoffs, the midseason additions filled lots of holes and the turnover may not be stark this offseason. The team needs to probably splash for a couple starters and add some depth. Perhaps most importantly, they need to stay healthy.

How would you spend this money? What cuts would you make? Be Sporting Director for a day in the comments.