This has been a really crazy offseason for Major League Soccer. There's been avalanche of transfer news pouring in from north of the border, new teams on the horizon, multiple coaching changes (eight teams will have new bosses this year), Cruz Azul snapping up three young MLSers, whatever is happening with Vancouver/Camilo and Colorado trading coach Oscar Pareja to Dallas for a first round pick (in 2015) and allocation money.
The Kansas City Star
It's not hard to see why Sporting Kansas City you know, the reigning MLS champions are flying a bit under the radar as we slowly ramp up to the MLS preseason.*
*The pre-draft player combine is this weekend in Florida. Which means the "offseason" lasted a paltry 35 days. The SuperDraft is Thursday, Jan. 16. Sporting KC opens its first camp on Jan. 23. We are officially closer to the first preseason game for Sporting KC (Feb. 1 in Tucson) than we are from the MLS Cup final.
While Sporting KC took care of some of its business before Christmas, there are a few big questions that remain.
1. Can SKC re-sign Chance Myers?
So far, Kansas City have re-signed two players this offseason: Eric Kronberg and Josh Gardner. The big news I'm waiting for, is whether Kansas City can re-up its out-of-contract right back. (Source: Steve Brisendine dropped that info in his 2013 review for MLSsoccer.com.)
Over the last three seasons, Myers has been a fixture on the league's best defense. He might not be the best defensive fullback in the league, but he's one of the best two-way fullbacks playing for a team that puts a lot of faith/responsibility on that position. His play last season was at times fantastic and was enough to earn him a call-up to the U.S. men's national team training camp this month.
His base salary in 2013 was a relative bargain at just $105,000. I would imagine that his next figure will be more in line with two other highly-touted MLS right backs Tony Beltran ($166,800) and Todd Dunivant ($150,000).* Can Sporting KC give him the raise he deserves and keep it under the salary cap?
*You know who also makes more than Myers? His former teammate and current U.S. national team fringe fullback Michael Harrington ($140,000).
If KC can't get him back and under the cap, Mechack Jerome proved at times that he could be a capable replacement last season. Homegrown player Kevin Ellis would also be in the mix. Neither would be quite the same as Myers bombarding up and down the right flank though.
2. Who will be KC's No. 1 goalkeeper?
Less than 48 hours after winning the Philip Anschutz Trophy, goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen retired and moved down I-35 to become the head coach of KC's new USL Pro affiliate Energy FC in Oklahoma City. Replacing him won't be easy.
Long-time backup Kronberg got a contract extension this year and Peter Vermes has already named him the team's No. 1 going into preseason. However, Kansas City traded for Overland Park-native and former Columbus Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. He has a massive edge on Kronberg in MLS experience; Kronberg has a leg up in institutional knowledge. Both are also 30 years old.
I'd give the advantage to Kronberg, if only because Vermes said as much. But it will be a very interesting competition to watch develop.
In the background of this competition will be the continued development of Jon Kempin. (Given the mutual admiration between Kempin and his mentor Nielsen, I think a loan to Energy FC would be a very possible move for him in 2014.) Also, there are reports that former SKC Academy goalkeeper Jacole Turner is returning from Europe to sign with Kansas City. This could get very interesting. Turner left Lee's Summit last season to sign with Athletico Madrid's youth team.
3. Will Kansas City make a big move to strengthen the midfield?
It was apparent during the MLS Cup playoffs that Kansas City was very thin in midfield. Two players Paulo Nagamura and Lawrence Olum had to both make heroic recoveries from injury at key moments just for Kansas City to have enough healthy bodies to get the job done. Nagamura hadn't played in two months but managed to play 187 minutes in three days to help KC get past New England and survive a trip to Houston. Olum only recovered from a broken leg in about a month and replaced an injured Oriol Rosell in the 8th minute of the MLS Cup final.
Now, everyone knows I love Nagamura. I'm the founder of his appreciation society. But he's not getting any younger (he'll turn 31 in March) and has appeared in more than 20 games just once since 2009. Olum has proven himself very capable now in two very big games the MLS Cup and Open Cup finals but I don't believe his passing ability is quite good enough to break into the midfield as a regular starter.
With Benny Feilhaber and Oriol Rosell both figuring to be fixtures in the starting lineup, Kansas City would do well to bring in a high-energy midfielder to provide competition and depth for what will be a very busy year.
4. How will Vermes treat this year's SuperDraft?
Barring a trade, Kansas City won't pick until the 38th pick (last in the second round) in the college entry draft. A pick in that range isn't a guarantee of anything. You could unearth the next Geoff Cameron (#42 in 2008) or Chris Schuler (#39 in 2010), or you could just have a guy fighting for scraps on the back-end of the 30-man roster.
Nothing is a certainty that deep into the mix. So, will Vermes use that pick and try to find a player that fits KC's athletic profile with high upside -- which he's tended to do the last few years in the second and third rounds. Or could that pick be used as a piece of a trade?
Kansas City's other three picks are #41 and #57 (third round) and #76 (fourth).*
*Coming next week: The Sporting KC SuperDraft conundrum.
5. Will Robb Heineman and Vermes stand pat while the rest of the league is spreading some serious cash around?
Two highly competitive guys sitting on a pretty big pile of allocation money, with two recently-won big trophies on display at the office, a world-class stadium with ludicrously devoted fans, a proven track record of solid scouting and dreams of being the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League and repeating as MLC Cup champions. Hmmmmm, you tell me if you think they're going to just let this all pass by without at least taking a chance.