On Friday, Sporting Kansas City announced the new contracts for Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza and Andreu Fontas. Zusi and Espinoza signed one-year deals with a club option for a second and Fontas signed a two-year deal. Those transactions brought Sporting KC up to 26 rostered players of a possible 30 players.
It’s not uncommon for MLS teams to leave a little roster room open going into the season to be able to make moves in the summer window, when better players are available for cheaper. Let’s take a look at the (limited) flexibility that remains and how the roster build has gone so far for 2023.
Not Much Changed from 2022 to 2023
Before getting into the moves the team still has to make, let’s take a quick look back at the offseason. Going into the 2022-23 offseason, the team had 11 players in limbo. After all the dust settled, only two are gone and one of them still could come back.
Back are the aforementioned Zusi, Espinoza and Fontas, as well as Khiry Shelton, Felipe Hernandez, Cam Duke, Tim Melia, Kendall McIntosh and Kortne Ford. That’s nine of the 11 players the team could have easily moved on from. The only players not back are Kaveh Rad and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (more on him in a moment).
It’s kind of wild that so much of a team that missed the playoffs and were literally one of the worst teams in the league for the first two-thirds of the season is almost entirely intact. Then again, they were one of the best teams down the stretch and that was without Kinda or Pulido returning yet.
Is Isimat-Mirin Coming Back Too?
As we outlined last week, Sporting KC actually drafted Isimat-Mirin in Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Process. That means they had to make him a “genuine offer” (aka he could take a pay cut) and if he didn’t re-sign (which presumably he hasn’t agreed to anything because nothing has been announced), then Sporting KC retained his rights.
If he were to return, that’d be 27 of 30 spots filled, but there are roadblocks. First, there is probably a little bit of a sting of having your contract option declined essentially saying you aren’t worth the $1,028,124 you were making. Another obstacle is the lack of international roster spots (more on that in a bit). Currently Sporting KC are out of spots, but there are ways around that.
Finally, this team just didn’t have a very good defense last year (54 goals allowed and a negative 12 goal differential) which may just mean the team really does need change and were only willing to bring back Isi and Fonti on (hopefully) greatly reduced deals. We’ll know more on their salaries in the Spring.
International Roster Spots — SKC are Out
As of this writing all eight international spots on Sporting KC are filled. They are occupied by Andreu Fontas, Gadi Kinda, Logan Ndenbe, Robert Voloder, Marinos Tzionis, Willy Agada, Erik Thommy and new signing Nemanja Radoja.
Now, there are ways around that. First off, SKC could just trade for a spot. Nashville SC traded away a ton of them in recent weeks and other teams will no doubt follow their strategy of limiting their international signings as MLS, like most sports, is a copy-cat league.
Another loophole is in the form of green cards. With the new rules in effect, teams must get their green cards processed before the roster compliance date (likely a few days before the season starts) to count. So it’s plausible green cards came through for players already on the roster but there was no need to announce anything because it won’t count until 2023 anyways.
Fontas has been on the team since the summer of 2018 and Kinda has been on since January 2020. Since Fontas joined, Alan Pulido and Remi Walter signed and were given green cards. The other six internationals all joined at the beginning of last season or later, so they could be further off with the bureaucratic red tape that has emerged in recent years.
The final way to free up an international spot is a trade, transfer or loan of one of the eight players above. With trades you never know who might head out, but I’d guess some of the U-22 Initiative guys (Tzionis, Ndenbe, Voloder) would be the most prime candidates to head somewhere they can get more minutes. That said, I don’t foresee a loan happening. Then again, Daniel Salloi spent a season away on loan when he was young.
Speaking of U-22 Slots...
Sporting KC are out of those too. Teams can have up to three, if they have at least one Designated Player that’s TAM-able or in a Young DP slot. SKC have filled all three through transfer fees to acquire the aforementioned Tzionis, Ndenbe and Voloder.
SKC have a Designated Player Spot
I’ve already written extensively about why Sporting KC get a new DP in 2023 while not losing any of their three DPs from this season (Pulido, Russell and Kinda). While they can technically add either a Young Designated Player (unlimited transfer fee and salary as long as they are 23-years-old or under) or one that is under the Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) max of $1,651,250, I don’t anticipate any moves right now. CB is the only position of need even vaguely worth that kind of spending and they are out of those international spots that DPs usually occupy.
There are a couple players in MLS that might fit this mold that wouldn’t require proper DP money, don’t take up an international spot and play center back, so it can’t be entirely ruled out.
So is the Roster Build Done or Not?
I definitely think more movement will happen, but it might be pretty subtle. Sporting KC pick 8th in the upcoming MLS SuperDraft on December 21st. It’s the highest selection they’ve had (that they didn’t trade) since they went 4th overall in 2010 and picked Teal Bunbury (who is still in the league by the way).
In addition to a draft pick potentially high enough to earn a roster spot, there are always quality Homegrown players on the verge of a contract.
Also, the team has to sign at least one more CB. They only have three on the roster (Ford, Voloder, Fontas) right now and carried five last year. Isimat-Mirin could come back, but I’m hopeful for someone more impactful and maybe a fifth player for positional depth.
The additional moves were all but confirmed by Sam McDowell of the KC Star.
“These are not financially-preventive contracts [given to Espinoza, Zusi and Fontas] to what else Sporting would like to accomplish this offseason, primarily finding a right center back and secondarily a young striker. They are supplementary. Fontas’ deal is also less expensive than his previous rate.”
The right center back comment would seemingly indicate Isi is gone and that Khiry isn’t the third striker that PV referred to earlier in the offseason.
- 26 players are signed for 2023 already
- Only two didn’t return (yet) from 2022 — Isimat-Mirin and Kaveh Rad
- The team is out* of international slots
- The team is out of U-22 Initiative spots
- The team can still sign a Designated Player
- There will likely be a couple more signings
How are you feeling about the roster build so far? Are you at all concerned how close to the 2022 version of this team the 2023 version will be? Peter Vermes is out of contract after the season and his future with the club will be very much in the balance based on 2023 success.
Let us know your thoughts on the build in the comments below.