The Full 90

Covering Sporting Kansas City and soccer throughout the Midwest and the world

Full 90 mailbag: Who’s the best in MLS? What’s next for SKC after Besler, Zusi deals?

07/22/2014 11:49 PM

07/23/2014 12:01 AM

Given Sporting Kansas City’s recent run of excellence, the Matt Besler/Graham Zusi signings and the residual World Cup hangover, there was a lot of stuff on your minds for the first installment of Ask The Full 90.

So, without further adieu, let’s open up this mailbag and jump right in.

Depth, commitment to a philosophy and the sputtering form of many Eastern Conference rivals. (Have you looked at New England’s current form? Yikes)

No matter what the rest of the conference does, the first two reasons are impressive. Despite using 20 different starting lineups this year in 20 MLS matches, Peter Vermes hasn’t really had to adjust things — the brief and unsuccessful dalliance with the 3-5-2 notwithstanding — all that much.

He’s built a versatile roster that can handle the rigors of a little adversity with new players dropping in without missing a beat. It’s not quite the team that Vermes wants. But he still has a few months to get this team ready for the playoff stretch. That’s a testament not only to his qualities as a coach, but also as a technical director.

At the moment, I gotta go with Seattle. Despite losing DeAndre Yedlin and Clint Dempsey for the World Cup and some ill-timed injuries, the Sounders have chugged right along. They have the talent and the depth to keep chugging along too. Of course, we’ve been here before with the Sounders. Let’s talk again in November.

I think the season can be a success, but will be viewed as a disappointment if this team doesn’t win some hardware. Winning the MLS Cup trophy last year permanently set the bar high — whether that’s fair or not. (It kind of isn’t; winning trophies is very, very hard.)

If Sporting KC remains in contention for the Supporters’ Shield all season (but falls short) and reaches the Eastern Conference or MLS Cup finals (but falls short again), that’s a really good year. But it’s not quite good enough anymore. These are the expectations set by the franchise and the fans now. Anything less is going to feel like a bit of a let down for a lot of people.

I think you can answer this question two ways.

1. Matt Besler’s play against Portugal, Germany and Belgium (all with world-class attackers) shows that KC already sort of proved that they can develop that level of talent. The transfer of Rosell and the success of Roger Espinoza in England both show that in various degrees too.

2. Keeping players like Besler/Zusi (and capturing talent like Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, Obafemi Martins, etc.) is all part of the process of increasing the level of competition here.*

*I flatly reject the argument that Besler going to England would improve his game simply by going up against the best forwards in the world. It didn’t exactly help the English defenders in the World Cup. And, besides, if he had ended up with Fulham, he wouldn’t have been going up against the best forwards in the world as they were relegated last season.

The smart teams (KC, Los Angeles, Seattle) have invested not only in bringing in talent, but developing talent too. They’ve made it easier for an American player to view this league as a career path. If more American talent — and CONCACAF and international talent (the dunce Ashley Cole excepted) — view this league as a viable career option, the level of competition will naturally rise. The league overall won’t reach “World Class status” overnight, but this is an evolutionary process. And Kansas City is playing a big role.

It’s hard to know for sure what impact the impending CBA really had. It’s probably good for the organization to lock down its two star players before the negotiation process even starts, though.

Besler and Zusi are, obviously, in good situations or they would’ve explored other situations. However, I worry that they might have limited their potential future earnings. If the CBA allows for anything actually resembling free agency, the markets for those two domestically might have commanded a larger price. (The caveat: Since MLS makes none of this information available at the time, any speculation is just that. Maybe these deals are the best that Besler and Zusi will ever get.)

As for the three DPs, I wonder if they’ll have a third DP for much longer....

It certainly seems curious that Bieler hasn’t played in the last nine MLS games for KC. There are rumblings floating around that he’s on his way out, but nothing definitive. While there’s no reason to believe KC is in a financial bind at the moment, they likely can’t afford to let an expensive player sit on the bench. Although, that’s precisely what they did with Bieler for long stretches of 2013.

If I had to guess right now, I think he might play tonight against Manchester City and that’s it. Which will make this particular Knoda prediction seem awfully stupid.

I don’t think that’s necessary to help pay for these specific deals.

For all “intents and purposes,” Zusi was already a designated player. His new deal was likely a formalization of that. And Kansas City was fairly flush with allocation money — which is often used to pay down a player’s salary or buy a third DP slot — after the transfers for Kei Kamara and Rosell. They’re good for it.

For the future? I’m sure that Sporting Club will keep fishing for the right partner because income streams are income streams.

I think Palmer-Brown’s immediate future is helped by having Besler around to mentor and help guide him. (That is, unless the team can work out some sort of deal around his school work to send him out on loan to Oklahoma City. Which, maybe?)

For me, the big long-term threat to Palmer-Brown is probably Aurelien Collin. If Kansas City locks up both of those players for a few years, and if Ike Opara returns to full strength next season, and if Kevin Ellis continues to impress as KC’s do-it-all back-up defender, then Palmer-Brown might have some issues seeing the field. Which would be bad.

Next year (provided Juventus doesn’t come calling again) is when Sporting KC will need to find games for Palmer-Brown. For now, they can let him learn and develop.

Can I say all three? Because they have all earned it.

Collin will be the most immediate, as his contract (I think, the league doesn’t make these things public) expires first. He also deserves it as he’s a three-time MLS All-Star, one of the league’s best defenders and still draws the biggest cheer during pre-game intros at Sporting Park. He will be keenly aware of his value and the attention being given to his defensive partner when it comes time to negotiate.

Feilhaber is, based off the most current MLS Player’s Union numbers, the team’s second-highest player with a base salary of $325,000. Is he worth more? Feilhaber came to this team with a pretty high wage deal and this year is definitely proving his worth. You could make a decent argument that he’s been the team’s most consistent and versatile player this year. How much higher could he go? Could the Feilhaber-as-Designated-Player train come back to the station? I’d like to see a full season at this level before wagering a guess.

Dwyer, one of the league’s leading scorers this year, is no longer a Generation Adidas player and is on a fairly cheap salary ($80,000 as of the last union release). However...

He’s flirted with Europe a few times already and, after his torrid play in April and May, his value/profile might never be higher than it is right now. I think he’ll explore his options again this off-season — and I don’t think he comes back.

According to this MLSsoccer.com article last season, every team is allotted a set dollar amount to use to retain eligible players. But I have no idea what “eligible” players means.

Given the drama that surrounded his off-season, maybe. However, if Kamara was willing to leave for Middlesbrough just to play in England, he was always going to leave to play in England no matter the salary options presented.

It’s a bit premature in my mind to even start talking about a controversy. Gruenebaum has played OK and has performed when called upon. But just OK. I’m not ready to anoint him a challenger to the starting spot yet. (I will admit to being amongst the “There’s nothing wrong with Kronberg” camp.)

Against Los Angeles, he made a few solid stops but I thought his positioning was poor early in the second half and almost cost Kansas City its lead. I also think KC misses Kronberg’s distribution — Gruenebaum often delivered the ball to Olum (and often exclusively to Olum) in potentially dangerous situations.

I’ll borrow a sentiment from my colleague Sam McDowell: Juliao is the starting right back for Vermes. Defensive warts and all.

He was targeted a lot by Los Angeles — especially in the second half and Vermes did pull him for Kevin Ellis — but he’s been up to the task when called upon more than once for one-on-one defending. His issues come when he absolutely loses his man in defense. Which resulted in a near catastrophe against LA.

Sporting’s Champions League group is one of the hardest, with Costa Rican power Deportivo Saprissa lurking. It’s always a tough trip to play down there.

Last year should serve as a good learning experience for this team. The biggest lesson: They can’t take the home games lightly. Draws to both Real Esteli (an opponent this year too) and Olimpia doomed Sporting to a low seed for the knockout stage and the thumping that Cruz Azul delivered.

Kansas City can qualify from the group stage again this year. I think fans should expect that too.

Well, you guys are amazing. What started as a lark on a ride home from work has turned into a really hefty mailbag full of questions. We’ll definitely bring this back next week.

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