Four days after Sporting Kansas City concluded its season without a playoff victory, coach Peter Vermes spoke briefly with the media outside the club’s training facility. In the final question of his interview, he was asked to forecast the ensuing offseason.
The answer required only one word.
“Busy,” he said.
A bevy of offseason roster changes began to trickle in Tuesday, when the club announced that it chose to decline options for goalkeepers Andy Gruenebaum and Eric Kronberg, forwards Sal Zizzo and Toni Dovale and midfielders Michael Kafari and Victor Munoz. Vermes said it’s unlikely any of the six will be back with the club next season on re-negotiated deals.
Kronberg, a 2006 fourth-round draft pick, was the team’s longest-tenured player. His departure, along with that of Gruenebaum, a Blue Valley North graduate, leaves only one goalkeeper on the roster — 21-year-old Jon Kempin.
“We’re actively pursuing other opportunities with goalkeepers,” Vermes said Tuesday. Asked if he had a potential replacement already lined up, Vermes added, “I’m getting there. Getting closer.”
Vermes, who also serves as the club’s technical director, said he exercised one-year options with Dom Dwyer, C.J. Sapong, Seth Sinovic, Ike Opara and Kempin. Benny Feilhaber had his option automatically picked up by a trigger clause in his contract.
That offers the club stability on a day that mostly centered on change.
Midfielder Lawrence Olum won’t be back with Sporting KC next season after the two sides agreed to terminate his contract, a request Olum made that will allow him to pursue options in other professional leagues. Sporting KC will retain Olum’s rights if he decides to return to MLS.
The club has another four players who are set to become free agents this offseason — defenders Aurelien Collin and Kevin Ellis and forwards Jacob Peterson and Soony Saad. Vermes said all four players have been issued bona-fide offers, which means the club will retain their rights if they opt to stay in MLS. He classified contract negotiations with all four players as ongoing.
Vermes said he has engaged in talks with Collin’s agent since the end of the season, though he added, “I’m not saying it’s always good. But there’s definitely banter back and fourth.”
Ideally, the club will have resolutions with all four free agents — one way or the other — before the MLS expansion draft on Dec. 10. Sporting KC will be allowed to protect 11 players from being selected by New York City FC and Orlando City SC. Kempin, Ellis, Erik Palmer-Brown and Mikey Lopez are automatically exempt from selection.
Two days before the expansion draft, MLS teams will be allowed a half-day trade window on Dec. 8. Sporting KC is expected to be active within that window. It may also be committed to the foreign market.
In other words, it’s an all-options-on-the-table approach to the offseason. Asked if the multitude of changes are a response to the team’s slide down the stretch or simply a matter of circumstance, Vermes said: “It’s a combination of the two. There’s no doubt that we sustained a lot of abnormal situations this past year. They’ve been well-documented. But the league’s changing.
“We have to keep evolving as a team. Change is inevitable.”
The guaranteed change will be in goal, of course. Kronberg and Gruenebaum combined to start all but three MLS games this season, but both missed portions of the year with injuries.
Vermes said a variety of factors played into his decision to cut ties with both keepers.
“Injuries were a part of it for sure. Performance? No doubt about it,” Vermes said.
“... Andy had two opportunities to take on the starting position, and both times he got injured. I need guys that are durable.
“... Kronberg’s been an incredible citizen here with this club. I have the utmost respect for the guy. I just think this isn’t the place for him. Whatever he’s going to do, I think he needs a clean slate.”
After having their contract options declined, Kronberg, Gruenebaum and Zizzo will be eligible participants in the MLS Re-Entry Draft, the first phase of which takes place Dec. 12. The second phase of the process concludes Dec. 18.
Kafari and Munoz will be part of the MLS Waiver Draft on Dec. 10.