After the attacking numbers have been the primary culprits of Sporting Kansas City’s failure to secure a home playoff match since 2013, the club is just one goal shy of leading the Western Conference in the category.
It’s a drastic change in narrative for a team that actually fell short on its plans to add a high-priced striker in the winter.
And that’s a good place to start this Q&A...
Rumblings on a forward transfer target?— Michael (@mike_t_dubya) June 18, 2018
Forward, any chance it happens?— Skrizz Skrazz (@skratchz) June 18, 2018
Token question about DP number 9 signing— JT Displays (Josh)❄️ (@JT_inKC) June 18, 2018
Sporting KC has scored 28 goals in 15 matches, on pace to score 63 times this season. It scored only 40 in 2017, 42 in 2016, 48 in 2015 and, well, you get the idea. High goal-scoring outputs have not been a staple of the Peter Vermes era in Kansas City.
But even with the improvement in 2018, make no mistake: The search for a striker forges ahead.
The secondary transfer window opens July 10, the final window to supplement rosters this season. In the meantime, Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes and director of player personnel Brian Bliss are aggressively pursuing a center forward.
We’ve heard this before. Sporting KC intensified the quest last offseason, even publicly stating its plans to add a center forward, but nothing lateralized from it. The hiccups in most of those discussions were teams unwilling to sell players in the middle of the European season.
That won’t be an issue this summer, and a source told The Star that the club’s front office is more optimistic about this transfer window. Ownership has approved the funds to make an impact addition at the position.
It’s not the only position of interest. Sporting KC is also shopping for a midfielder and a left back, per sources.
What is the ETA for Felipe Gutierrez' return?— Thomas Clark (@t0m1n4t0r13) June 18, 2018
When Felipe Gutierrez underwent surgery to correct a sports hernia in the first week of May, he was provided a timetable of 2-3 months before returning to practice, with the hope he could appear in a match by Aug. 1.
Gutierrez has not yet returned to practice, but the intensity of his side work has revved up recently, with him running sprints on the sideline and running the stairs alongside the back of the fields at Pinnacle. Vermes won't say exactly when he expects Gutierrez back, but the signs point toward him beating the Aug. 1 date.
Although I led this mailbag with expectations for the transfer window, there would be no bigger addition for Sporting KC than Gutierrez. In only five starts, he’s already a proven commodity in this league — and clearly worthy of a salary that makes him the highest-paid player in team history. Gutierrez scored five goals in those five starts, winning MLS player of the month honors in March.
Which of the SKC teenagers ends up with the most minutes for the club? Who has the biggest impact? This year and beyond.— Deron Graham (@derongraham) June 18, 2018
Interesting question. Tough answer. Three teenagers received their Sporting KC debuts within the last three weeks — midfielder Wan Kuzain (19), defender Jaylin Lindsey (18) and midfielder Gianluca Busio (16). Busio will trail the other two in minutes this year and likely in 2019, too, but age is the undeniable factor.
The buzz will always follow Busio, considering he signed as a 15-year-old last summer, but in talking with MLS personnel outside of Kansas City, Lindsey has made the biggest impression of any of the three. He is MLS-ready by more than necessity, and if he can showcase an ability to play on the left side in addition to right back, it only accelerates his development.
Is jaylin Lindsey> than EPB was at 18? I think yes but hard to compare bc EPB was behind the best defenders in the league— SKCLFC (@SKCLFC1) June 18, 2018
You hit the nail. Erik Palmer-Brown was behind Matt Besler and Ike Opara on the depth chart. There are first-rate center backs in this league who wouldn’t crack the lineup behind those two. Lindsey’s playing time has been the result of Sporting KC’s injury list, which includes Jimmy Medranda, Seth Sinovic and Cristian Lobato. Lindsey is progressing and has a bright future — and his spot on the U.S. Under-20 men’s national team follows a path Palmer-Brown navigated — but if Medranda was healthy, he would still be the starting left back.
With depth being tested and being shown as a strength for this club, what does an all healthy starting XI look like down the stretch?— Tom Hoffmann (@countzerokc) June 18, 2018
Also odds PV uses some Open Cup like line-ups in MLS matches in August to try and avoid the previous years spirals?
A lot of variables here, but if we’re assuming health, I’ll go with Melia, Zusi, Opara, Besler, Medranda, Sanchez, Espinoza, Gutierrez, Salloi, Russell and a center forward acquisition this summer.
PV has been experimenting (a little) w/ different formations. Will this be a trend we see continue, especially when Gutierrez comes back? Will it be hard to get everyone minutes?— hammertime (@wmchammer33) June 18, 2018
Will we see any more 5-3-2 like we did vs RSL? Or perhaps more Johnny Russell working in the middle as opposed to on the wing?— Coach John Dale (@coachjohndale) June 18, 2018
The formation was more of a reaction to the personnel that Vermes had available during the match in Utah last month than it was a sign of things to come. Before the year, he hinted this roster could allow him to tinker with formations, but sitting in first place in the West, there’s an element of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There will be in-game adjustments made based on score and situation, but don’t expect a deviation from the 4-3-3 to become a consistent option for the starting group.
Thoughts on Amor? He's had his moments, but I see a ton of upside.— Austin Curttright (@ACurttright) June 18, 2018
Amor has an option to buy. Chances we buy?— Colton (@KarrottFC) June 18, 2018
I talked to an MLS scout Monday about a few players, and before I even asked about defender Emiliano Amor, he said, “That Amor guy is really (bleeping) good.”
The price to turn his one-year loan from Argentine club Velez Sarsfield to a permanent transfer exceeds $1 million, but those options are always high because they’re simply a starting point for renewed negotiations.
Yes, I think Sporting KC will look to keep him around for the long-haul. But if he’s already caught the eye of people outside this front office, Velez Sarsfield will have some leverage if and when Sporting KC requests to lower his price.
What role (if any) does SKC play in helping bring the World Cup to KC in 2026— Jared✪Wilson (@jaredmwilson) June 18, 2018
A significant one. There is a lot of momentum on Kansas City's side — I'd ballpark it at 75 percent Arrowhead Stadium gets at least two matches. Sporting KC's facilities would be one of the biggest draws for national teams, and they have assigned employees to the day-today operations for the Kansas City bid. David Ficklin, the club’s vice president of development who has played a major role in the design of Children’s Mercy Park, Pinnacle and the Sochi Olympic venues, will continue to be heavily involved moving forward.
With Vermes' contract extension, is there any word on Zavagnin's future? Is he happy in an assistant role, or is he going to be looking at getting head coach experience at SPR/outside the club?— John Barden (@JonnyBMackin) June 18, 2018
There’s some desire there to be an MLS head coach some day. Kerry Zavagnin, a top Sporting KC assistant, has been up front about that and mentioned it to me in this article a couple of years ago. He would not be interested in the Swope Park Rangers head coaching job. An MLS assistant is considered a rung above that position.
If Illie gets hurt. Who on our team can do what he does? Maybe Felipe?— Marcus Carson (@carson_marcus) June 18, 2018
Felipe Gutierrez is the backup at that position, when healthy. Wan Kuzain is another option there.
Why does Vermes play Shelton over Rubio even though rubios better stats show it. Also when will Guttierez be back???— Jeff Tennis (@jeffatennis) June 19, 2018
It’s more about stylistic fit than skill-set. Shelton is not only one of the fastest players on the roster, he is tall and strong enough that he’s tough to move off the ball. That gives him an ability to prolong possession spells in the offensive third of the field. And for a team that thrives on out-possessing its opponents, that’s a key attribute.
Take a look at his work here in the play that leads to Yohan Croizet’s game-winning goal Saturday against FC Dallas.
There is another thing in play here, and that’s Vermes’ preference to stick with what’s working. Sporting KC has lost only once in the 12 matches in which Shelton has started. That’s impossible to ignore.
Having said that, this is a good place to come full-circle: The search for a striker will continue into the summer.