You wouldn't expect a team that came within 90 minutes of earning a spot in MLS Cup to overhaul its roster in the off-season. You'd expect a few moves here and there -- tinkering and tailoring, mostly.
But, that's not really Sporting Kansas City's style. The start to the close season has been as hectic, frantic and unpredictable as the style of play preferred by head coach/technical director Peter Vermes.
Three veterans are gone, some surplus midfielders were shown the door, two players were acquired and the team will have a distinctly less foreign feel than in years past in 2012.
We're just a month (exactly) into the off-season and already the off-season overhaul has seen 7 players (8 if you count off-budget defender Scott Lorenz) leave town since the whistle blew in the Eastern Conference Championship. That includes both designated players (Omar Bravo and Jeferson) and the longest-tenured player on the roster (Davy Arnaud). If you want to break it into figures, those 7 players added up to $1,299,996 in guaranteed compensation (according to the Sept. 1 MLS Players Union figures), and 566 games of MLS experience that walked out the door.
In that same span, KC also traded for a player they lost in the expansion draft, traded a player who didn't want to play here anymore and acquired two veteran MLS midfielders with injury issues.
Here's a quick recap:
•Nov. 21: Want-away winger Ryan Smith is traded to Chivas USA for a first and third round pick in the 2012 Supplemental Draft.
• Nov. 23: Sporting loses leftback Seth Sinovic to Montreal in the Expansion Draft. In a separate move, Kansas City waives designated player Jeferson, midfielders Milos Stojcev and Craig Rocastle, and defender Scott Lorenz.
• Nov. 28: KC trades veteran midfielder and captain Davy Arnaud to the Montreal Impact to get Sinovic (and some allocation money) in return. In other news, Jimmy Nielsen signs a contract extension with an option to stick around until 2014.
• Nov. 29: The spirit of give-backs continues as Sporting sends Chivas USA back the first-round pick in the Supplemental Draft for midfielder Paulo Nagamura.
• Nov. 30: Midfielder Luke Sassano and defender Shavar Thomas are not re-signed by KC and thrust into the MLS re-entry draft. Sassano will remove himself from the draft before it takes place. (I've been informed that Sassano has re-signed with KC and it will be announced formally in 2012.
• Dec. 2: For the cost of an international slot, Sporting acquires former U.S. international and Reading midfielder Bobby Convey from San Jose.
• Dec. 12:
Designated player, reserve captain and co-leading scorer Omar Bravo is allowed to return to Mexico after his first and only year in Major League Soccer.
If Vermes offers you a used car, you'd be well advised to decline -- for the price of a want-away player, a "borrowed" Supplemental pick and an international slot, Vermes upgraded his midfield and brought in cover for the inevitable departure of Bravo.* He also got Montreal to take Arnaud's hefty salary off their handsand
received allocation money.***Which is really the only truly shocking and depressing transaction this year.
**This is an under-rated move. He could've left Arnaud unprotected and let Montreal scoop him up. But he didn't. It's like having a couch you don't want but, instead of giving it away for free, you get someone to buy a less expensive chair. Then you come back a week later and then "convince" them to give you that same chair and $100 to buy the couch you don't want anymore. Vermes is starting to get the hang of the MLS trading market.
It's actually kind of hard to believe that KC actually went the last 8 days without any player movement of any kind.******Kind of fortuitous that I spent most of it on vacation, no?
So, what's left? Well, quite a lot actually. Yes, even without Bravo.
Consider: All 11 players who took the field in the Eastern Conference Championship are still here, including eight who are 25 or younger: Matt Besler (24), Teal Bunbury (21), Aurelien Collin (25), Roger Espinoza (25), Chance Myers (24), CJ Sapong (22), Seth Sinovic (24) and Graham Zusi (25).
That's the core of your team next year, the year after and, hopefully, the year after that.
Toss in veterans Julio Cesar, Kei Kamara and Jimmy Nielsen, the versatile fullback Michael Harrington, young striker Soony Saad, the flexible Sassano and now Nagamura and Convey (both 28), and that's 16 starting-caliber players on the roster. Just as deep as last year -- and not nearly as expensive or old.**** Meaning, they have money to splash on a few more players, such as string-pulling attacking midfielder (like Jeferson should've been) or a young foreign designated player (a la Freddy Montero).****The average age of the 25-man roster right now? 24.88. There are only three players over the age of 30.
This is all, by the way, before Vermes gets his hands on seven picks in a relatively deep draft pool. (For the record, KC picks #16 in the first round and has Dallas' #11 pick in the second. There are four Supplemental Draft picks: #16, #35, #43, #54 and #73.) Vermes has a good track record with the draft -- especially the first round where he's snagged Myers, Espinoza, Besler, Harrington, Bunbury and Sapong.
There's also a crop of intriguing back-ups like Eric Kronberg, Birahim Diop, Peterson Joseph, Daneil Cyrus and homegrown player Kevin Ellis. (I have not heard whether or not Cyrus is going to be back -- he was on loan this year from his club in Trinidad and Tobago.)
What's interesting to me is that this is the third off-season for Vermes in the role of coach and technical director and this is the third different way he's built the team.
In 2010, the team brought in players with great athletic profiles but unproven soccer ability (Pablo Escobar, Sunil Chhetri, et al).***** In 2011, we saw veteran foreign talent with specific skill sets come in to shore up the spine of the team (Julio Cesar, Aurelien Collin, Omar Bravo).***** What's more, of that massive player influx at the beginning of 2010, only Nielsen remains. Stephane Auvray, Escobar, Chhetri, Smith and Rocastle are all gone.
Now, we're seeing Vermes trust the core of his team and make a few moves for established MLS players to add depth/challenge his current players. With only 7 international slots to start the year (Aiyegbusi, Cesar, Collin, Cyrus, Joseph and Nielsen are holding six of those spots now), it will be interesting to see how that last spot is used.