Two days after Sporting Kansas City lost a winger in the MLS expansion draft, it dealt from its surplus of outside defenders to acquire a replacement.
Sporting KC traded right back Saad Abdul-Salaam to New York City FC on Thursday, in exchange for forward Khiry Shelton. The two players were selected in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft — Shelton at No. 2 and Abdul-Salam at No. 12.
Shelton, 24, had one goal in 15 games (three starts) this past season for New York City FC. While playing primarily as a winger, he has six goals and 10 assists over three career seasons.
He trained with Sporting KC while he was a sophomore at Oregon State.
“I saw how passionate (coach) Peter (Vermes) is and the guys are about the culture there. That’s something that when I found out about the trade, I was very excited about,” Shelton said in a phone interview. “It’s going to be a process at the beginning, but I’m more than thrilled. I’ve seen with my own eyes the passion from every player, the fans, the coach — so that’s everything a player could wish for.”
Both players have been on the trading block this winter. Abdul-Salaam, 26, became expendable after losing his starting job in 2017.
The match with New York City FC fell into place after LAFC plucked Sporting KC winger Latif Blessing in Tuesday’s expansion draft. Sporting KC was motivated to replenish the position, and they turned to Shelton, whose past two seasons have been ravaged by a combination of injuries and a failure to move up the depth chart.
“Khiry is a player whose intangibles always stood out to us, even as we had followed him from early in his college years," Vermes said in a statement. "We look forward to bringing him to Kansas City and are enthusiastic to see him on the field during preseason.
“Sporting KC also thanks Saad for his three years of service, and we wish him the best of luck in New York.”
Shelton, who said he feels fully healthy now, called striker his natural position, but he often played out wide with New York City FC and figures to do the same in Kansas City. At 6-3, 191, he is a much bigger presence than Blessing and perhaps a more adept passer, whereas Blessing was a natural goal scorer. Blessing made 16 starts in 2017.
“I’m versatile. I think Peter’s going to do his best and put me in a position where I can help the team out the best I can,” Shelton said. “I think I grew a lot as a player — not a lot of players get to experience that. They stick to one position. I’ve been able to play multiple positions.”
Abdul-Salaam figures to receive an uptick in playing time in New York. Before his move to a reserve in 2017, he started 26 matches in 2016. He was named the Sporting KC defender of the year that season, when he recorded six assists, the most in the league by a defender.
But the breakthrough season was followed by a return to the bench. Graham Zusi migrated to the back line in 2017, pushing Abdul-Salaam to a reserve role. He started 10 matches this year, all of them in a fill-in role and many of them while Zusi was with the United States men’s national team.
On the depth chart behind Zusi, who is under contract through 2018, Sporting KC has 2017 first-round pick Colton Storm and 17-year-old Jaylin Lindsey