For the second time in 18 months, Sporting Kansas City is trading away its incumbent starting center forward.
Sporting KC agreed to a three-team swap Tuesday that will send striker Diego Rubio to Colorado, with midfielder Kelyn Rowe and $300,000 in allocation money moving to Sporting KC. Rowe, 27, arrives in Kansas City via New England, where he has spent all seven seasons of his MLS career.
The departure of Rubio is not intended to be the first in a string of moves to alter the top of Sporting Kansas City’s formation. Instead, it’s an opening for Krisztian Nemeth to seize the starting striker job in Kansas City, where he thrived in 2015 but failed to find his form after a midseason trade this summer.
“Nemeth is someone I have an immense amount of confidence in,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview with The Star. “I truly believe that he has the ability to be one of the top strikers in our league.”
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The full trade sends also includes Edgar Castillo moving from Colorado to New England.
The deal further prolongs the turnstile at center forward in Kansas City since the team traded Dom Dwyer to Orlando City in July 2017. The motivation behind the latest trade is reminiscent of that one.
Rubio, 25, is in the final year of his contract, and he’s thought to be seeking a raise on the $266,875 number he received in 2018. After ACL surgery cut short his 2016 season and delayed the start of 2017, Rubio scored 14 goals in just 1,791 minutes over the past two years. That increased his demand but also his value on the trade market.
Colorado contacted Sporting KC multiple times this offseason in pursuit of Rubio. Vermes had hoped to land a substantial amount of money in any deal. Instead, he got money and a player he’s long coveted. The breakdown will give Sporting KC $100,000 in targeted allocation money (TAM) and $200 in general allocation money (GAM).
And in his quest this offseason to augment his roster with depth, Vermes believes he has landed a valuable piece. Rowe is a former No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft and has made 214 league appearances since his debut that season. He’s perhaps best known for his versatility, playing on all three levels, though his preferred position within the Sporting KC system is likely as a midfielder.
Rowe’s statistics dipped in 2018, recording just one goal and two assists over 27 appearances, 18 of them starts. In his seven-year career, Rowe has 29 goals and 40 assists.
“We do moves that are centered around the long-term. That’s the easiest way to look at it,” Vermes said. “We’re getting a player who we’ve liked for a really long time, even when he was in college. He solidifies our midfield for the long term, and he can play on the left or right wing. He’s a really good player.”
Sporting KC has lost the two players who occupied the center of the front line most often in 2018. Rubio alternated starts with Khiry Shelton over the final half of the season. Earlier this winter, Shelton turned down a contract with Sporting KC in favor of pursuing overseas opportunities.
Barring an unforeseen move, Nemeth, 29, will be the top choice in 2019, with recently-acquired Erik Hurtado providing another option. Nemeth scored 10 goals for Sporting KC in 2015 before a transfer to Qatar. His return to MLS in New England included only one goal in a year’s time.
After rejoining Sporting KC via trade in August, he scored once in 386 minutes.
“He came in two-thirds of the way into the season, and other guys had made their mark who had been with us from the get-go,” Vermes said. “He just needs to have a full season with us, and I think he has every ability to be one of the best forwards in our league.”