Dom Dwyer’s exuberant, marketable, record-setting tenure with Sporting Kansas City came to an abrupt end Tuesday.
Sporting KC traded Dwyer, its all-star striker and second-leading scorer in team history, to Orlando City SC in exchange for $1.6 million in allocation money, $700,000 of which must be earned through incentives. A league source told The Star that most of the incentives are easily attainable, one of them as simple as Dwyer appearing in a single match with Orlando.
The exchange of money is the largest such transaction in MLS history. If Dwyer reaches all of the incentives, the return sum to Sporting KC will be more than double the previous largest financial fee any team has received in an MLS trade.
The roots of Tuesday’s trade sprouted after contract talks between Sporting KC and Dwyer’s camp gained little traction over the previous months. Dwyer’s current deal concludes with a club option after the 2018 season.
“I have to look at the short- and long-term aspects of the organization,” Sporting KC coach and technical director Peter Vermes said. “Sometimes you can’t keep everybody just based on the financial constraints that are imposed upon you based on that salary cap. In this situation, it was probably going to end up being very, very difficult.”
Multiple teams contacted Sporting KC about Dwyer when the summer transfer window opened earlier this month after learning of the slow pace of his contract negotiations. Vermes said Sporting KC received offers from several teams, including two that approached Orlando’s record-setting presentation.
The reasoning: Dwyer, who turns 27 this week, scored 57 goals in MLS play in Kansas City, including 55 over the past four seasons. The latter is tied for second most in the league. He led Sporting KC in scoring in 2016, 2015 and 2014, including a franchise-record 22 goals in 2014.
“Dom’s had a lot of contributions to this team on and off the field in his time here,” Vermes said. “But at the same time, this team has never been built around one player.”
Late Tuesday, Dwyer penned a farewell message to Kansas City and its fans and posted it to his social media accounts.
“Deep down, I knew this day would come, and no matter where this journey of football takes me, KC will always be where it began,” he wrote, also adding, “I hope I made a footprint in your hearts like you did mine.”
Under Vermes’ directorship, Sporting KC has never shied away from trading or transferring its top talent. But a Sporting KC club that sits in second place in the Western Conference will be left to replace an MLS All-Star who has scored 67 goals across all competitions in Kansas City, the second most in franchise history.
But a Sporting KC club that sits in second place in the Western Conference will be left to replace an MLS All-Star who has scored 67 goals across all competitions in Kansas City, the second most in franchise history.
In this case, the long-term benefits are obvious. The allocation funds are sufficient to aide Sporting KC in a multitude of ways.
The short-term repercussions will depend on the next, yet-to-be-seen move. Even in a down year during which he has scored only five goals, Dwyer was still Sporting Kansas City’s top striker. Sporting KC has been tracking strikers, both foreign and domestic, all season, sources told The Star.
More recently, the club narrowed that focus toward one of its own former players, Krisztian Nemeth, who scored 10 goals in 28 MLS matches in 2015 for Sporting KC before transferring to Qatar. Vermes acknowledged interest in Nemeth on Tuesday, but there are several moving parts to overcome to make Nemeth’s return a reality.
Because Sporting KC received a transfer fee when Nemeth departed Kansas City, he would have to go through the MLS allocation order if he returns to the league. Columbus owns the No. 1 spot in the allocation order and therefore the first right of refusal for Nemeth if he joins MLS, but the league allows that spot to be traded.
After picking up $1.6 million in allocation money Tuesday, Sporting KC has more than enough funds to make a deal happen if it so chooses — and it nearly did so earlier this week — but Vermes insisted the club is setting its sights on numerous options, not just Nemeth.
Any acquisition — Nemeth or otherwise — would need to be completed before Aug. 9, when the summer transfer window closes.
“That player and many others — all the above — are in play,” Vermes said. “The question is going to be whether or not we’re going to get a deal done with another player in the short term, or is it going to be in the next window?”
The following transfer window would be the offseason.
If Sporting KC is unable to reach a deal with any of its targets in the near term, it will turn to internal options. Diego Rubio has started in place of Dwyer this month while Dwyer was with the United States men’s national team for the first time. Rubio, who returned from 2016 ACL surgery last month, has two career MLS goals in 19 appearances, though just five of those appearances are in a starting role.
Asked about the timing of trading Dwyer before having an outside replacement cemented, Vermes responded, “I don’t know when anybody would say was the right time (to make the trade). At the end of the season? I don’t know. But then you do it at that time, and then they (ask) why you’re doing it now. I don’t know if when you make a move if it’s ever the right time for everyone. But this made sense at this point to do what we did.”
It illuminates how far apart Sporting KC and Dwyer were on negotiating toward a contract extension. The two camps began those talks in March, some 21 months before his contract is set to expire. After each side’s initial offer was rejected, the talks stalled.
Dwyer, who was drafted by Sporting KC in 2012, is earning $668,750 in total compensation this season, including a $550,000 base salary. His salary is set to increase in the final year of his deal in 2018.
Orlando City SC has not yet negotiated toward a new deal with Dwyer, per Paul Tenorio of FourFourTwo. But Orlando has long been a suitor of Dwyer.
In 2013, Sporting KC loaned Dwyer to Orlando, then its USL Pro affiliate, where he scored 15 goals in 13 matches, including four in the club’s 7-4 win in the USL Pro Championship match. On its website Tuesday, Orlando City SC wrote, “Welcome home.”
The club paid a premium, unmatched price to obtain Dwyer. The official breakdown: Sporting KC will receive $500,000 in targeted allocation money, $400,000 in general allocation and $700,000 in future allocation money based on the incentives being obtained.
General allocation money can be used to offset player costs toward the salary cap or to sign new or existing players, among other options. Targeted allocation money must be used on more expensive pieces of the roster — signing or re-signing athletes classified in the designated player range under MLS rules, which are those earning at least $480,625 in 2017.
That could come in especially handy for Sporting KC, which already has Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Gerso Fernandes and Graham Zusi earning more money than the designated-player status. Each team is only allowed three designated players but can use allocation funds to make up the difference in those contracts.
That’s precisely what Sporting KC has done to keep its core intact since its championship season in 2013. The success of the past has prompted regular player raises.
Not unlike another professional sports franchise in Kansas City, that’s triggered tougher decisions for management on which route to follow — the present or the future.
Sporting KC is hoping for both.
“We’ve never looked at being a team that puts all its resources toward being really good one year and then falling off the next year,” Vermes said. “We what to be competitive every single year. We’ve proven that. Sometimes that means you have to make hard decisions.