An hour after the final whistle Thursday, inside the Sporting Kansas City locker room, players exchanged handshakes and hugs. Few words were spoken. The farewell was implied.
It was a final farewell in a Sporting KC uniform for some.
Sporting KC declined contract options for midfielder Cristian Lobato, forward Kharlton Belmar and defenders Brad Evans, Colton Storm and Amer Didic on Friday, the day after the team was bounced from the MLS playoffs.
Such is the nature of the MLS offseason, and it’s in full swing for Sporting KC as of Friday morning.
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On the flip side, the club exercised one-year options on striker Diego Rubio, defender Graham Smith and goalkeepers Adrian Zendejas and Eric Dick. Rubio is the biggest name of the bunch; he was third on the team with eight goals, despite playing only 781 minutes.
Sporting KC has also extended an offer to forward Khiry Shelton, who started 15 games in his first season in Kansas City. Although the two sides are yet to work out an agreement, the offer ensures that Sporting KC preserves Shelton’s MLS rights. Negotiations are ongoing.
The moves bring into focus a roster that is unlikely to undergo significant change this offseason. Sporting KC already has 23 players under contract for 2019, including all 11 players who started the season-ending loss Thursday in the Western Conference Finals — goalkeeper Tim Melia; defenders Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Seth Sinovic and Graham Zusi; midfielders Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza and Felipe Gutierrez; forwards Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell and Rubio. Also under contract are Smith, Zendejas, Dick, Gianluca Busio, Yohan Croizet, Gerso Fernandes, Andreu Fontas, Tyler Freeman, Jaylin Lindsey, Jimmy Medranda, Krisztian Nemeth and Wan Kuzain.
“At the end of the day, I think the guys accomplished a lot this year,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said. “They evolved as a team. They played very well. It was an enjoyable group to coach on a daily basis. We’ve got a lot more ahead of us. We’re in a good direction. I’m proud of them and the work that they gave the club and this city over the course of this year.”
Sporting KC reports to training camp in Scottsdale, Ariz., in just six weeks.