On Tuesday, Sporting Kansas City became one of the last teams in the league to announce their roster moves following the 2022 season. As Peter Vermes told us before the offseason kicked into high gear, he didn’t think the roster needed a “large overhaul” and his moves so far align with that.
As of now, 23 players are under contract for 2023, with one new signing (midfielder Nemanja Radoja) and 22 returning players. The team is also actively negotiating with Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza and Andreu Fontas. If all three of them return, 26 of the 30 roster spots will be filled. However, it’s far from a done deal that they come back. It won’t be the first time Sporting KC declined an option and tried to renegotiate if Zusi or others don’t return.
So let’s take a dive into the roster and look at the biggest needs across the position groups.
#1 Need - Centerback(s)
Currently Signed: Kortne Ford, Robert Voloder
While the team is still negotiating bringing back Andreu Fontas, they cleared up over $1 million in salary space by declining the option of Nicolas Isimat-Mirin. They also declined the contract option of Homegrown CB Kaveh Rad. That leaves just two rostered players at this position that often has at least four, but maybe five.
In a pinch, Ben Sweat could play CB in a three back setup. Outside of that, there is really no one on the roster with that experience. If Fontas re-signs, I’d expect it to be at a lower number than his $1.125m he made last year. That should leave plenty of flexibility to add a potential starter to the mix.
The team even has a Designated Player spot open, though historically teams rarely sign a CB to DP money. There are rumors that New York Red Bulls veteran free agent Aaron Long is looking for DP money, but it’s not clear he’s worth it. I imagine he’ll bet on himself and hope to have a good World Cup for the USMNT to drive up his value.
In MLS the only DP centerback that is a real success is Walker Zimmerman, and he just agreed to an extension with Nashville SC which gave him that DP raise. I think it’s more likely Sporting KC keep that DP spot open until the summer of 2023 (or later) and look for an impact player. MLS teams just rarely use up a DP on anything other than an attacker.
Whatever moves Sporting makes, they need to add two to three CBs this offseason.
Vermes threw everyone a curveball Tuesday when he announced that Khiry Shelton was not only returning, but for three more guaranteed years! I personally had incorrectly assumed that Shelton would simply have his option declined (or at worst triggered for one more season) since Vermes was adamant he wanted a third striker. Khiry played that role for much of 2022, so the fact that he said he only had two strikers (Pulido and Agada), made a new signing seem likely.
“When we talk about the center forward position, the number 9, I want to get another forward at the end of this year,” said Vermes. “That’ll give us at least three guys in that position that can outright play the #9 position.”
One would presume he knew he was re-signing Khiry when he said that, so I’d guess he still intends to add another player who “can outright play the #9 position.” A quick glance at the forward depth chart if I picked it today:
LW: Daniel Salloi, Marinos Tzionis, Khiry Shelton
CF: Willy Agada/Alan Pulido (open competition), Khiry Shelton, Ozzie Cisneros
RW: Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton, Marinos Tzionis
Ozzie should be healthy and he’s often played in a false nine role, though a return to the midfield could be in order too. I’d expect Sporting to add one player, somewhere along this mix. Either a pure nine as PV indicated, or a wing prospect. It’s a real shame Mataeo Bunbury walked for free.
This one is heavily dependent on the return of Graham Zusi. If he re-signs, as I suspect he will, then this isn’t an area of need. Carrying five fullbacks is a luxury Sporting KC haven’t afford themselves the last few seasons and Kayden Pierre, Logan Ndenbe and Ben Sweat are all signed through at least 2023.
If Zusi doesn’t re-sign, you probably want at least a serviceable veteran in case Pierre isn’t ready for primetime and to allow some squad rotation with a busy schedule coming next season (including a revamped, month-long Leagues Cup format).
Defensive Midfielder Depth?
I’m reaching here a bit. The team already signed Serbian midfielder Nemanja Radoja, who is likely at least competing with Remi Walter for starting minutes. However, if Walter is destined to play further up the pitch, that leaves just Uri Rosell as your only other d-mid. I seriously doubt that Radoja is another Jose Mauri situation, but the team shouldn’t go into the season with just Rosell as a backup.
Uri last started a game on July 17th and only accumulated 88 minutes across five appearances after that date. He’s a perfect candidate for an offseason buyout then Sporting could spend more substantial money in this spot. However, if they keep Uri, as my colleague David suggested they would, then I’d like to see them at least add a prospect here so the cupboard isn’t completely bare.
If the team sees Walter now more as a #6 than a #8 (which Vermes has said the opposite of), then add another midfielder further up the pitch.
Outside of those spots, I think the team is pretty much set. There is always the possibility someone becomes available that’s just too good to pass up on a free transfer (see: Felipe Gutierrez circa 2018), but barring that, these are the areas I would target.
Keep checking back to the full SKC/MLS offseason schedule for what should be happening next as we build towards the 2023 season. And hang with The Blue Testament as our 2022 World Cup coverage is picking up steam!