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After 2022 is over, who stays and who goes from Sporting KC?

We break down every roster decision the team must make at the conclusion of the season.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 Sporting Kansas City season is coming to an end and the offseason will be right on it’s heels. While there are still two games to go in the season, Sporting KC have been mathematically eliminated and will now switch to playing the role of spoiler for the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas.

However, the offseason starts so quick once the season is over (though this year there may be a cushion), we here at The Blue Testament thought it would be best to figure out who should stay and who should go before SKC are forced into making those decisions.

So here is every player who is either out of contract or has a contract option, with our staff votes on who should stick around. Look for a series of podcasts on the subject from some of our other writers. (For a full list of contracts, head this way.)

Players Out of Contract

Tim Melia

Age: 36 (May 15, 1986)

2022 Salary: $529,167

Chad Smith (CS): There are a lot of hard decisions that Sporting KC need to make. Both John Pulskamp and Kendall McIntosh look like they may be ready to take over. Over half a million bucks isn’t nothing on an MLS roster with a tight budget. Goalkeepers don’t age the same way as field players, but Tim started 2022 slow and never quite showed his past form. I’m completely good with a one year deal and a competition for the starting job. But don’t be shocked if KC move on.

David Greenwald (DG): I can see a scenario in which the team chooses to move on due to the cap space/GAM that Tim costs. That said, while I’m a big John Pulskamp guy, I’m not 100% convinced he’s ready for the job. Pulskamp let in a couple howlers and needs to continue to refine his game - he gets beat near post too often and needs a lot of work with PKs. I think Tim comes back on a two-year deal for similar but possibly reduced money to mentor Pulskamp and eventually hand over the reins.

Daniel McCown (DM): Timmy has been immense for this club, however, he will be 37 and is expensive. I think a way forward that would make the most sense is a club-friendly salary of around 300k and a one-year deal. I agree with DG that Pulskamp has looked good, but is prone to the occasional howler. Pulskamp being the out-and-out starter does not necessarily scare me but in my opinion it slightly lowers this team's ceiling.

VERDICT: Keep Tim for at least a year with a possibly reduced salary.

Roger Espinoza

Age: 35 (October 25, 1986)

2022 Salary: $300,000

CS: I love Roger Espinoza. He’s one of my favorite players all-time for Sporting KC. And down the stretch run of the season he looked like vintage Roger (minus needing to sub out a bit early each game). If he wants to, he can probably stay in shape and do a version of that again in 2023 with limited minutes. But if this team has Thommy, Kinda, Walter, Hernandez and Duke all vying for those minutes, I’m not sure it makes a ton of sense. If Roger wants it and continues to take pay cuts, don’t rule anything out, but Kansas City held on too long to aging vets in 2022 so I think it’s retirement time for Espinoza. But I almost feel like they have to hire him on staff as a locker room glue guy.

DG: It’s time for Roger to end his career as only he can. With a red card for time wasting against Seattle as we kill off their playoff dreams. Weirdly enough, Roger has actually looked better than ever at times this season. At other times he looks every bit a 35-year-old. $300,000 isn’t a huge cap hit, but what does his role look like next year? He’s not starting over a healthy Kinda, Thommy, or Walter. Felipe and Cam need to continue to develop. Roger can presumably provide veteran leadership inside the organization without being a member of the senior roster. He’s working on those coaching badges for a reason.

DM: Roger is a future Sporting Legend. He is the best two-way midfielder the club has ever had (in my memory at least). However, it was noticeable this year that if you left him in for more than 45 minutes he would drop off fast. His mind is writing checks his body can't cash as shown by the eleven (!?!?!) yellow cards so far this season. I think it's time for him to end his illustrious career and join the coaching staff somewhere inside the organization.

VERDICT: Hire this man onto the technical staff.

Andreu Fontas

Age: 32 (November 15, 1989)

2022 Salary: $1,125,000

CS: I think the case can be made that both starting CBs (Fontas and Isi) should be gone from this roster. They both make north of a million dollars and they don’t contribute at that level. All season I’ve thought Fontas was doomed when he dropped off from his stellar 2021 performance. However, depending on other roster moves and Fontas taking a sizeable pay cut, I wouldn’t rule out a return. He’s ready to start while Robert Voloder is still getting up to speed. Fontas next to Kortne Ford could work really well together and compensate for Walter’s less progressive passing as the #6 (if another 6 isn’t signed). No way PV keeps Fontas and Isi, but of the two, I’d take a discounted Fontas (weird to say after a year of thinking there is no way he’s back).

DG: Peak Fontas is a true joy to watch. Fontas faded a bit down the stretch in 2021 but was a legit Best XI caliber CB most of the season. The guy who led American Soccer Analysis in goals added (g+) was able to continue his strong offensive showings by finishing 5th in MLS with 3.15 g+. However, Fontas was benched early in the season after a series of bad defensive showings. This time he wasn’t just a victim of his lack of pace, but Fontas was repeatedly caught ball watching or stepping up at inopportune times, leaving space behind to be exploited. In the last 10 games, Fontas’ performance improved and he showed more flashes of the player we saw last year. All that said, Fontas is on the wrong side of 30 with a history of injuries and a huge cap hit of over $1.1m. He’s the 6th highest paid defender in the league but was part of a defense that shipped 52 goals in 32 matches. My guess? Fontas is offered a 1-2 year deal on a reduced salary. It would be a surprise to replace both starting CBs and my thoughts on Isi are below...

DM: 2022 Fontas has been tough to watch. Before the current good form of the club, I can't think of a single complete performance that the starting CBs put together and Fontas was regularly a part of that duo. Add on top of that the steep price tag we were paying and it just does not feel like the level of production you would expect. There is a world where Fontas comes back on a 1 year half-a-million dollar deal where it makes sense for him to stay with the team but if he wants anywhere near his current compensation than I think you have to show him the door.

VERDICT: Significant pay cut or he’s gone.

Felipe Hernandez

Age: 24 (June 8, 1998)

2022 Salary: $85,444

CS: This is a no-brainer for me. He’d obviously get a (deserved) raise if he comes back, but he’s still only 24-years-old. He’s grown up in the system. Even if he’s the 4th or 5th guy on the roster at the #8 midfielder spot (Thommy, Kinda, Walter, Espinoza?) then that’s just really valuable depth. Next year’s schedule could be quite busy and he is starter quality available from the bench.

DG: Ditto what Chad said. One of the better stories of the year was seeing Felipe return to the squad. I know some don’t like his shithousery but I love it. The kid plays with a fire and attitude that reminds me of Benny and Roger. He’s great depth and doesn’t cost much.

DM: +1 to what everyone else said. Sure he will get a deserved salary bump but I doubt he breaks 200k. Also like DG I am here for a little shithousery. The league needs more heels and if we can provide one so be it.

VERDICT: Bring the man back!

Players with Contract Options

Graham Zusi

Age: 36 (August 18, 1986)

2022 Salary: $450,000

CS: I think Graham Zusi returns in 2023 unless he doesn’t want to. However, after the Minnesota United win, I saw him intently watching the Real Salt Lake game (knowing they and the LA Galaxy need to lose to keep SKC alive). I don’t think Graham wants to go out the way he has, dealing with repeated injuries this season. And I think he’s been better when healthy than in recent memory. And it gives 19-year-old Kayden Pierre more time to cement himself as the eventual starter.

DG: Believe it or not, I think Sporting KC should exercise Zusi’s option. Kayden Pierre should be the starter going into 2023. His progressive carries from the right back spot are a sight to behold and he’s got a lot of room to grow and hit his ceiling. Zusi can still contribute as depth and a veteran presence for Pierre and Ndenbe. Sporting KC relies heavily on the fullbacks to contribute into the attack and Zusi is the blueprint. 2023 probably needs to be the final ride for Zeus though.

DM: I am really torn on this, partially because soccer is dominoes and when Zusi is not on the field it changes a lot of how this team has to play. Zusi functions essentially as another midfielder because of his quality on the ball and passing. Therefore having him on the field balances having Ndenbe on the other side. All that said 450k is a lot for a backup right back and I think he should be backing up Kayden Pierre next year. I would regretfully turn down his option and pour one out for his glorious hair.

VERDICT: 2 of 3 votes to pick up his option.

Cam Duke

Age: 21 (February 13, 2001)

2022 Salary: $93,000

CS: Generally I’m pro keeping young guys on good deals. And I do hope Sporting KC brings back Cam Duke since he’ll just be 22 at the start of the next season. However, it’s impossible not to notice he hasn’t progressed as much as any of us would like. He’d probably be served well by starting all the time with SKC II (and even more so if they were still in the USL Championship). I don’t think you let a young prospect on a Homegrown deal that’s very cheap walk, but several guys left after last season that I wouldn’t have suspected. Cam is my dark horse for a surprise release.

DG: Tough to disagree with Chad. Cam Duke could be the surprise release of the offseason. If I had a say his option would be picked up and I wouldn’t think twice. Cam gets a lot of flak for his style of play, but he’s also a dynamic Homegrown. From a talent perspective, he’s got a lot of room to grow and is probably as close to a Gadi Kinda replacement that SKC has. From a roster construction standpoint, he’s cheap and Homegrown. Given the roster constraints of the inane (insane?) MLS roster rules and salary cap, it’s crucial to have Homegrown players on cheap contracts. Not everyone can be bought down with GAM, TAM, SAM, or SPAM.

DM: Ditto to the above takes.

VERDICT: Pick up that option Peter!

Khiry Shelton

Age: 29 (June 26, 1993)

2022 Salary: $350,000

CS: I think it’s time for both parties to move on. Sporting from Khiry, and Khiry from Sporting. The case has been made why to keep him, but I think the negative relationship between a huge portion of the fans just can’t be good for the psyche of Shelton. He may be best served with a new start elsewhere. I won’t rule out Vermes bringing him back because he is depth across all three front spots, but in almost all instances I want to see the other forwards first, so he’s way down the depth chart for me.

DG: I’m not wasting a paragraph on this one. Time for Khiry to go. I’m sure he’ll get the option picked up though.

DM: Is there a world where Peter Vermes does not pickup Khiry’s option? As CS mentions it's downright hostile between the fans and Khiry right now, but PV has not ever seemed to let that stop him. I want him to go, but I think he stays.

VERDICT: We all want the option declined, but are afraid it’ll get picked up.

Nicolas Isimat-Mirin

Age: 30 (November 15, 1991)

2022 Salary: $1,028,124

CS: See my Fontas argument above. I think Isi probably has a leg up in Peter’s mind, but if his option is picked up he won’t get a pay cut like Andreu could theoretically take. Isi is a much better passer than he’s given credit for and I’m interested in seeing he and Ford together too. However, I won’t be fully stunned if both “starting” CBs are gone if KC have a lead on other acquisitions. If you make me pick one of he and Fontas to keep, I think I keep Fontas to groom Voloder to be the starter in the (near) future.

DG: Isi is the 11th highest paid defender in the league. He’s certainly faster and more athletic than Fontas, but Isimat-Mirin repeatedly gave up open headers at the back post by ball watching. Fontas’ defense might not be optimal but Isimat-Mirin’s wasn’t great either. According to American Soccer Analysis, Isi’s g+ was -0.17. By both the eye test and the underlying statistics, Isimat-Mirin disappointed this year. It would be surprising to see Vermes get rid of both “starting” CBs, so my guess is that Isimat-Mirin is the one who gets his option declined.

DM: Isi played like the smallest tall man I have ever seen this year. He would regularly stay planted to the earth while balls flew over his head to unmarked runners. I just don't get it. I think if Fontas goes then Isi’s option could very well get picked up but I would prefer to let Isi (or both he and Fontas) walk for how much money he is making.

VERDICT: Decline his option [Chad: Frankly I’m stunned that everyone agreed with me.]

Kendall McIntosh

Age: 28 (January 24, 1994)

2022 Salary: $120,000

CS: I already thought Sporting KC would bring back McIntosh and then he went out and made his first MLS start and looked calm and confident like he belonged. The simple fact they kept him a second year when Sporting have routinely just turned over that third keeper spot each season was a sign they liked him and saw something. If Melia is gone, you have keep McIntosh in my eyes, but I see him coming back no matter what.

DG: IDK. He’s essentially free. Really depends on what the team does with Tim. I don’t really have a strong opinion either way.

DM: +1 to the above.

VERDICT: Bring him back? [I think, I’m just tallying votes here people...]

Kortne Ford

Age: 26 (January 26, 1996)

2022 Salary: $151,667

CS: At times, Ford looked like the best center back on the team. He’s the most athletic of all of them on the roster and he’s a menace in the air. His suspension is unfortunate and casts a bit of cloudiness over the situation, but I think it’s a sure thing he’s brought back. He is on a bargain deal and could definitely be the starter. If Fontas, Isimat-Mirin or both are gone, then that’s just even more assurance he’ll be around.

DG: I think Vermes picks up Ford’s option and it’s not even close. After losing two seasons to injury in Colorado, Ford looked like a revelation in Sporting blue. The suspension was a real roadblock to his comeback story, but prior to that he looked like a quality starter. He doesn’t have the passing range of Fontas but I think he could meet Isimat-Mirin’s production now that he’s had a full season of health and practice. From a roster construction perspective, he’s cheap. From a marketing perspective, he’s potentially a goldmine.

DM: Remember just how good Ford looked before he got suspended? It was insane that we could pay someone 150k a year that looked better than the two million-a-year players he was on the roster with. So by all means bring him back his contract is basically free and he is an athletic freak of nature.

VERDICT: It’s a travesty if that option isn’t picked up!

Kaveh Rad

Age: 21 (June 13, 2001)

2022 Salary: $84,000

CS: He didn’t see the field at all in 2022 as of this writing. He wasn’t even an every game starter for SKC II as he was needed to sit the bench off and on for the first team. At 21 it doesn’t seem like the team has seen enough. He has two option years left and they could keep this experiment going but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him cut to make room for someone else. If he’s back in 2023, he needs to be starting all the time in MLS Next Pro to get valuable experience. If he can’t earn that job, he can’t take up a first team spot.

DG: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: he’s cheap and Homegrown. That said, if you’re not close to contributing to the first team roster, you probably shouldn’t take up the spot. Rosters rules in MLS don’t really allow you to carry dead weight and still compete. I say pick up the option and give him one last chance to prove it. Defenders often mature later than attacking players so there’s a chance the light will switch on soon. If he can’t contribute in 2023, it’s probably time to move on.

DM: I think he gets cut, but I always thought he looked okay when he took the field in years past. The fact that he has made no appearances this year may indicate has regressed and we need to free up the roster spot for a new HG.

VERDICT: Keep him? Why can’t MLS just have bigger rosters for more Homegrowns?

So what do you all think? Did we nail it? Discuss it in the comments!