Sporting Kansas City’s search for a striker commenced nearly a year ago, back when Dom Dwyer was still listed atop the depth chart. His foreseen departure prompted the club to start exploring options for an eventual replacement.
Months later, those options are narrowed to select few. But Sporting Kansas City is still holding out for the replacement it deems the best fit.
“It’s not about just signing someone; it’s about signing the player we feel is going to give us the best chance to be successful,” coach Peter Vermes said. “Could we go sign a No. 9 (striker)? Sure, we could sign a No. 9. We could’ve signed one two weeks ago, a month ago, two months ago. But we just don’t feel they are the ones that we’re looking for. The players we’re looking at, we feel are much more compatible to what we’re trying to do.”
Vermes has placed a preference on finding the right player over accelerating the timeline. He continues to express confidence in both incumbent striker Diego Rubio and newcomer Khiry Shelton, and with each passing day, starting one of them on opening day in March is becoming a more likely scenario.
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The club has made notable improvements surrounding the position — giving designated-player contracts to midfielders Felipe Gutierrez and Yohan Croizet and signing winger Johnny Russell this winter.
But make no mistake: The search for a striker marches on, albeit with some obstacles. The MLS market has changed over the past few seasons, with increasing transfer fees and salary requests. Aside from that, striker is the most sought-after position in the world, offering the players more leverage than the pursuing clubs. Those were anticipated hurdles and ones Sporting KC will ultimately have to surpass.
Vermes and Brian Bliss, the team’s director of player personnel, have pinpointed players they believe would be immediate and significant contributors, ones who are willing and ready to make the move to MLS and Kansas City. But teams are hesitant to sell them.
The transfer window is open through April and will re-open in July.
“Could it be summer? Yes. You don’t know. But our objective is to do it now, and we’re working towards that,” Vermes said. “But could it happen in the summer? Yeah, anything is possible. But that’s not our objective. Our objective is to make it happen in this window.”
If the player is right.
Sporting KC has passed on previous options. It put players on its discovery list earlier this offseason, securing their MLS rights to negotiate with them. But it opted to trade those rights in favor of alternative pursuits.
“We’re going to continue pushing the envelope to sign the one that’s the best fit for us as opposed to just signing a player just to be able to say, ‘Hey, we got a 9,’” Vermes said.
And so for now, Rubio stands as the top option in his third season in Kansas City. He scored six goals in 11 starts in 2017. Shelton, acquired in a trade with New York City FC, has noticeable athleticism and speed.
The presence of both has contributed to Sporting Kansas City’s patience, Vermes said.
“Let’s say we don’t wait and sign another guy that is maybe subpar to the one we want to get. Well, that guy wants a long-term contract, too, and now what you’ve done is locked yourself up with a player that’s not really the player you want,” Vermes said. “What if we get a 9 — or any position — and the player isn’t good?
“I’m not guaranteeing who we get is going to be good. What I’m telling you is that we’re going to make sure we’ve crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s to make sure he has the best chance to be successful within our team.”