After a 54-week search for a new striker, Sporting Kansas City has landed a familiar name.
Sporting KC traded for forward Krisztian Nemeth on Monday, sending $350,000 in allocation money and a 2020 first-round draft pick to the New England Revolution, league sources told The Star. The deal was confirmed by both clubs.
The transaction, arriving two days before the close of the summer transfer window, reunites a player and club who flourished together in 2015 before a sudden divorce months later.
Nemeth will arrive in Kansas City on Tuesday morning. He will be available for selection this weekend, when Sporting KC travels to face Los Angeles FC.
“This is a guy who I didn’t have to spend a transfer fee on, a guy who we already know, a guy who is in the same rhythm as our league and a guy who had his most successful year here with us,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. “I feel really good about him. I really do.”
Sporting KC has been searching for an upgrade at striker for more than a year, but its attempt to tap the overseas market was rebuffed. The club turned Monday to a known commodity whose role with New England had grown uncertain. Nemeth scored 10 league goals in his lone season in Kansas City before he was transferred to Qatar, but he has provided scarce productivity since his return to MLS last summer.
With three months left on the 2018 MLS regular-season schedule, a reunion with Sporting KC offers a fresh start. Nemeth played exclusively on the wing in his first stint with the club, but Vermes said he will plug into the top of the lineup in his second term, leaving Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell on the wings.
“I’ve always thought his best position was as a No. 9 in the middle,” Vermes said.
He joins a club that remains in search of consistent scoring output from its center forwards since trading Dom Dwyer to Orlando City SC in July 2017.
Sporting KC tried to add Nemeth last summer, after the Dwyer trade, but refused to meet the Columbus Crew’s asking price for the No. 1 spot in the allocation order, which was required to sign him. Instead, the Crew received $400,000 in allocation money from New England.
The selling price is $50,000 cheaper one year later, though it includes the 2020 first-round pick. Of the money Sporting KC will send New England — a blip in the $1.6 million it acquired in the Dwyer trade — $250,000 will be in targeted allocation money and $100,000 in general allocation money.
Sporting KC and New England began discussing the parameters of the deal two weeks ago. On Monday, with just 48 hours left to tweak his roster, Vermes pulled the trigger.
“We knew for awhile that they might be looking to move him when you look at the situation,” Vermes said. “But we wanted to exhaust ourselves to see all of our options. When I came in this morning, after we talked it over last night and over the weekend, with it getting close to (the end of) the window, we got a deal done that makes sense for both of us.”
Nemeth, 29, is making just north of $1 million in 2018, according to figures released from the MLS Players Union in the spring. But a league source told The Star that New England will be responsible for more than half of the remaining money Nemeth is owed this year. His contract expires after the 2019 season.
Nemeth had scored only once in New England since his return to the U.S. last summer. He started just four matches for the Revolution after the club endured a coaching change in 2018, recording two assists.
He was far more successful in Kansas City, where he scored 16 goals and added seven assists in 33 matches across all competitions. He also had the MLS goal of the year, a play in which he single-handedly weaved his way through the Portland defense to score the game’s only goal.
Nemeth is a technical forward who prefers to play with the ball at his feet, a potential fit for Sporting KC, which is second in MLS at 56.2 percent possession in 22 games.
“We play a certain way, and he’s already been part of that,” Vermes said. “He doesn’t need to get acclimated to what we do. He knows that stuff already. I think he’ll be ready right away. I think he’s pretty fit, and like I said, he’s already on our league’s schedule, so that will help.”
Sporting KC has scored more effectively since it traded Dwyer to Orlando — and it’s on pace to break a club record in goals — but the yield from central forward has been lacking. Khiry Shelton opened the season as the starter, scoring twice before knee surgery sidelined him. He is expected to return in about a month. Diego Rubio is atop the depth chart now. He has four goals — including the game-winner Saturday in Houston — but all four have come in a substitute role.
With spending money approved by ownership, Sporting KC scoured foreign leagues and set its sights on a high-dollar acquisition, even after learning Nemeth might be available via trade within the league, Vermes said. But it encountered snags as it targeted several players during the winter transfer window and encountered the same this summer. With two days left in this window, urgency prompted Sporting KC to act.
Sporting KC, third in the Western Conference after a weekend victory in Houston, presumably is optimistic it will find a motivated player after a flop in New England. It has seen the best of Nemeth in 2015, when he shifted to wing to play alongside center forward Dwyer.
But as the team convened for training camp in Arizona the following January, Nemeth requested a bump in salary and eventually a transfer after those talks stalled. Sporting KC reached a deal with Al Gharafa in Qatar, where Nemeth played for 18 months before joining New England.
In all, it’s been an eventful three-year relationship between player and club. Sporting KC sold Nemeth for a $1.5 million transfer fee in 2016. It turned down an offer to pay $400,000 to re-acquire his services a year later. On Monday, it added him for $350,000 — while paying only a portion of his remaining salary.
The lack of transfer fee preserves Sporting KC’s freedom for supplemental moves this winter.
“This keeps us very flexible,” Vermes said. “But I feel good about where we are.”