On a wintry, cold Saturday night in Toronto, Major League Soccer crowned Seattle as its latest champion, a moment that concluded the 2016 season.
For Sporting Kansas City — and its MLS counterparts — it presented an opportunity to officially flip the switch to 2017.
In a hurry, too. Commencing with a three-hour trade window at 8 a.m. Sunday, the MLS offseason will kick into high gear, with the second year of free agency, transfer acquisitions and four drafts (expansion, waiver, re-entry and college) on the docket.
A Sporting KC club that has failed to advance past the knockout round in three straight postseasons opens a pivotal offseason seeking to bolster its roster, positioning resources both domestically and internationally.
“Look, we were competitive last year; we made the playoffs. But that’s not good enough,” coach Peter Vermes said. “We have to be in the pursuit of winning. We have to be more consistent about our play.”
As it attempts to obtain young talent, Sporting KC is simultaneously looking for a return to the mind-set of the 2012-13 seasons — clubs that Vermes felt showed a consistent drive to chase trophies.
“I think that’s the No. 1 objective,” Vermes said. “I can tell you this right now — there won’t be a lack of hunger on the field.”
Asked if that was an issue last season, Vermes added, “Maybe at times I questioned that, sure. But I think you go through spurts (in every season) where you question that. There’s nothing I can do about this past year. But I know this — the group we assemble is going to be going after it.”
Sporting KC is thought to be in the market for starting-caliber players to infuse its attack, and Vermes recently took an overseas scouting trip. Sporting KC created scoring opportunities last season — tying for the league lead in shots attempted— but the finishing touch left something to be desired.
Although striker Dom Dwyer scored 16 goals despite battling a lower leg injury, there wasn’t much scoring prowess behind him on the front line. Jacob Peterson added six goals, but Sporting KC will allow him to test MLS free agency.
To reinvigorate the offense, Sporting KC is pushing its search to perhaps unfamiliar territory — the transfer market. Sporting KC has typically refrained from paying transfer fees for incoming players, though it did so for backup striker Diego Rubio last season. But ownership has expressed an increased willingness this offseason.
“When it comes to money to compete on the (designated player) market, we are stepping up the budget on an annual basis,” said Mike Illig, who represented the ownership group at a press conference announcing a contract extension for Vermes last week.
That doesn’t guarantee they will find the right fit, of course, but other mechanisms to make additions are on the horizon. The league will open its trading window for a three-hour period at 8 a.m. Sunday, the last chance for teams to make deal before the expansion draft Tuesday. MLS is set to welcome Atlanta and Minnesota into the league in 2017. Teams can protect 11 players from being selected in the expansion draft.
Hours after the conclusion of the expansion draft, teams can negotiate with free agents — players who are out of contract, at least 28 years old and have eight-plus seasons of MLS service. The waiver draft on Thursday and first stage of the re-entry draft on Friday will follow.
The international search, meanwhile, will be a lengthier process.
“Every year that I’ve gone to the ownership group and I’ve asked them to increase our budget outside of the cap, they’ve always been very willing,” Vermes said. “I think we’re in a position to compete from that perspective, but we’re always going to look for different players than other teams.”