Half an hour after a victory that felt more consequential and needed than most, Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes approached his post-game news conference a bit differently. He interrupted the first question and asked to offer an opening statement instead. It spanned more than three minutes.
“I know that over the course of many months now, we have struggled — no doubt about it,” Vermes began, before adding, among other things, “We’re in a situation that I personally, as a player or as a coach, I have never experienced before.”
As of Tuesday, Sporting has a final chance to mix up the equation.
The summer transfer window opened Tuesday, providing Vermes and technical director Brian Bliss an opportunity to improve a roster that sits in 10th place in the Western Conference. The abundance of early-season injuries throws a proverbial wrench in the window’s blueprint. They believe those nearing return from ailments could potentially fill the team’s biggest needs. Other issues, they realize, will demand outside attention.
But there’s another hurdle to surpass as they strategize.
While Sporting Kansas City’s reservoirs of allocation money — the fuel to squeeze larger contracts under the cap — are not empty, they have set aside much of it to stay compliant for 2020. The plan was for this current group to compete in multiple competitions and require little attention in the summer.
Hasn’t happened. And because of the current salary cap position, roster supplementation is either now or the winter.
But not both.
“Financially, we could do it, but the affect of it in January will be pretty significant,” Bliss said. “I too believe that our team, if we get healthy, we can get it going again. If you spend big money to get a guy, maybe someone comes back (from injury), and you were actually OK there. And now you’re hamstrung for next year. That’s the biggest discussion point we have in there.”
They’re aware of the standings, along with the reasons for their place within it. Aware that only Colorado has allowed more goals among Western Conference teams this season. Aware that a failure to convert high-quality chances into goals has become more of a trend and less of a blip in the model.
Sporting KC has engaged in discussions with international players about improving the defense in the immediacy, most seriously with Luis Martins, a 27-year-old Portuguese left back, sources told The Star. One more hurdle: Sporting is also without an available international spot and would need to acquire one via trade with another MLS team should it reach a deal with a player, likely offering some of that allocation money in return.
The rest of the complications plaguing this specific version of Sporting KC are more likely to be addressed in the winter, which allows increased flexibility. In January, Sporting KC will see the remaining half of the $900,000 in allocation money acquired in the Ike Opara trade. There will be other options to create additional available funds, including trades or transfers, though large contracts could prove difficult to navigate, and there are a lot of big numbers carrying over to 2020. That’s their own doing, of course.
As the team marches on through 2019, Bliss is tasked with pinpointing and scouting for the long-term future. The technical staff has already offered its foreign scouts some parameters.
The focus: Speed and youth.
Both are glaring weaknesses in 2019. The recent low conversion rate of goal-scoring opportunities has certainly been dissected inside the Sporting training center. Will the solution take a personnel change? Given the defensive inconsistencies, the club will almost certainly explore the market for an athletic center back. The Opara trade left a hole in the spine of the defense, the remnants of which are still present today. Sporting’s highest-paid defender, Andreu Fontas, did not make the lineup or reserves Saturday, despite full health.
Vermes said he won’t panic into making a move now, a sentiment Bliss echoed this week. Whenever the roster and salary cap position are ultimately dealt with, it will require heavy lifting. For now, Roger Espinoza, Erik Hurtado, Jimmy Medranda and Jaylin Lindsey are seen as potential fixes, each of them nearing a return from injury.
The lack of wiggle room under the cap and international spots leaves Sporting KC spending the bulk of its summer window there —prepping its internal solutions for the stretch run.
By and large, this group — the one that appeared to be one of the league’s best in March and stood as one of the league’s worst in June — will tread the final months without wholesale changes.