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With the Transfer Window Closing, This is Sporting KC’s Biggest Need

Plus a bonus need at another position that’s hard to deny is critically important.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Los Angeles FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Soccer primary transfer window is coming to a close on May 4th (may the 4th be with you). It doesn’t mean signings can’t still happen, as the secondary window will run from July 7th through August 4th, but it prompted MLS writer Matt Doyle to point out seven teams who need to make a signing and do it quickly.

He makes the case that Sporting Kansas City need to sign a #6 (defensive midfielder). It’s hard to argue the point as four players have lined up there this year between the often injured Uri Rosell, the already ‘mutually released’ Jose Mauri, Remi Walter and Roger Espinoza. In 2021 the team used the latter three players plus Gianluca Busio and Graham Zusi in that spot.

It’s a spot that is vitally important to the way Sporting KC play the game. But I’m here to argue that’s not the biggest need.

Sporting KC Need a Striker

The need is at striker, even though I don’t imagine a move will be made. Let’s look at why the move makes sense.

Striker Goals

I know, I know Khiry Shelton defenders, a striker can do other things. But one thing that neither he nor Nikola Vujnovic have done so far is score any goals. To be fair, there aren’t many goals going in at all, but they haven’t even been goal dangerous. I only remember a handful of half chances for them both. At this point last season, Alan Pulido had five goals already. Tell me that wouldn’t help.

Khiry Isn’t Creating Goals Either

Take a look at this heat map, posted by Home and Away SKC Podcast co-host Drew VanderPloeg, and the big missing gap where the center forward should be.

If you’ve watched over the last few weeks, Khiry is dropping deeper into the midfield trying to get the ball. Peter Vermes told us all before the season that was a wrinkle he didn’t know he had in his game. While I don’t mind him dropping defensively to pressure, it’s not a wrinkle he has in his game as far as I can tell. He’s better used holding up the ball (even if he frankly struggles at this) or getting long balls over the top.

It’s becoming such wide knowledge that Khiry is a non-factor in front of goal, it seems like teams are daring him to shoot and instead he often makes a poor pass instead and the defense focuses on Russell, Salloi and the like.

Could it be Vujnovic at Striker?

Vujnovic seems to be much more in the Alan Pulido mold, though in no way the same, than Shelton is. However, we haven’t seen much from him. He got a few starts when everyone was hurt, and he didn’t do much. And of course he didn’t do anything, he literally arrived days before starting and going 90 minutes in altitude against the Colorado Rapids. Then from there he was put into an abnormal formation (for SKC at least) with a sole striker and a five back because of injuries. Since then, he’s been relegated to late sub minutes.

At the bare minimum, I’d like to see Vujnovic starting with Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi next to him, if this team is going to employ a traditional striker (give me that false 9 action). Give him a chance to form a union with the attacking talent around him.

Shelton has Use Elsewhere

I’m not a full Khiry Shelton hater here, though it’s hard to defend his play so far this year (outside of the Vancouver Whitecaps game where I think he was screwed on multiple uncalled plays, more so than a regular game where he doesn’t get calls). But if the team were to go out and get another striker to rotate with Vujnovic, Shelton can be a game stretching winger off the bench or in spot starts (he wouldn’t need to score as much out wide).

He could also still come on and be a striker that subs on to kill off games with his relentless pace and (mostly) non-stop effort. I think very few people would argue he should be a day-in, day-out starter for this or any team in MLS. It worked last year a lot, but much of that was co-MVP caliber seasons from Russell and Salloi plus none of us seemed to realize how important Gadi Kinda apparently was, since so little else has changed in this lineup.

One last note on Shelton moving back to his more natural winger role, the team has basically zero depth there. Marinos Tzionis is the only other winger to actually play. Outside of that you have a lot of guys who would be out of position out wide (Ozzie Cisneros, Cam Duke, Graham Zusi, etc.). So it shores up depth there and at CF to make a move.

Do Sporting have the Budget to Sign Someone?

They do, but it won’t be at Alan Pulido’s level. As had been explained previously, SKC cannot add another Designated Player, even if they put Pulido on the Season Ending Injury List. That would allow them $250,000 in salary relief (and another international roster spot), but they already got cap space (and an int. spot) from the mutual parting with Jose Mauri. However, Mauri made just $660,000 last year, so there isn’t a ton of money to play with, but that does give some flexibility.

As far as who would fit into that budget and is available, your guess is as good as mine. The MLS trade market isn’t robust, but Vancouver went and got Brian White last year and he suddenly started banging in goals left and right. Getting someone who knows the league and the toughness of the travel and weather, would probably be ideal.

TL;DR

  • The striker needs to score goals
  • Shelton and Vujnovic aren’t so far
  • Shelton isn’t creating goals for his teammates
  • Vujnovic may be the answer
  • Shelton can lineup elsewhere on this team
  • There is some money in the budget

If not a Striker, then d-mid makes Sense

I don’t have a ton of confidence that Sporting will go out and make a move to get another striker. A final reason it makes sense is because this team has guys that can play defensive midfielder. Presumably Uri Rosell won’t be hurt forever. But if he is, Remi Walter played the 6 a ton in 2021 and the team was better than fine (a missed handball on Decision Day from first place). Sure, I’d like him further up the field, but the team has options at the 6, even if they aren’t the options you’d choose.

But if the team refuses to sign a striker, defensive midfielder is a position that is very critical to the way Sporting KC play. Particularly if they return to the single d-mid they’ve played most games outside of last weeks double pivot against LAFC. It was floated in our comments to go get Gianluca Busio if and when Venezia FC get relegated in Serie A, on a short-term loan. That would be huge and problem solving, but unlikely.

I have no doubt there are a plethora of talented guys out there who can play this role the way Sporting want, much more so than talented and cheap strikers. Then Remi stays up the field — he is the leading goal scorer on this team after all. Even if he only has two goals.