In the initial five days of the MLS offseason, Sporting Kansas City parted ways with a dozen players — a number that equaled 40 percent of last season’s roster. The subtractions highlighted a fervent roster turnover following the MLS playoffs.
The additions are on their way.
Sporting Kansas City is finalizing an agreement with veteran goalkeeper Luis Marin Barahona, a 31-year old Chilean national team member, a source told The Star. The club is expected to provide Barahona with competition for the No. 1 job.
And even though forward Dom Dwyer’s contract extension became official Wednesday, the source also said the team is expected to soon announce the signing of forward Krisztian Nemeth of Hungary. Nemeth, 25, has made 15 appearances with the Hungarian national team and was once a part of the Liverpool reserves system. He most recently played with Dutch club Roda JC Kerkrade.
While Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes wouldn’t comment on those signings, he did say the team is working to rekindle a relationship with midfielder Roger Espinoza. But Vermes said the team is unwilling to pay a transfer fee for Espinoza, who is under contract with Wigan until next summer.
Espinoza played with Sporting KC from 2008-12 before joining Wigan, which competes in England’s Football League Championship. His return would bolster a midfield that suffered its share of injuries last season.
As Vermes looks to the foreign market to supply his club with reinforcements, he is also in the process of trying to retain a pair of his own players who are out of contract at the end of the month — Jacob Peterson and homegrown defender Kevin Ellis.
“We’re trying to re-sign them now,” Vermes said. “I feel we’ll get both of those guys done.”
On the other hand, Sporting KC will not retain Soony Saad or Lawrence Olum, who already have committed to overseas offers. It also will not renew contracts for Toni Dovale or Martin Steuble, Vermes said.
The situation with 20-year-old defender Igor Juliao is a bit murkier.
Juliao joined Sporting KC on loan from Brazil’s Fluminense FC and started 23 games at right back after incumbent Chance Myers suffered a torn left Achilles’ in May.
Vermes said Sporting KC and Fluminense have not worked out an agreement to have Juliao back in Kansas City next season, and Vermes is moving forward this offseason as if Juliao won’t rejoin the club.
“As of right now, I don’t know what’s going to happen in that situation,” Vermes said. “We have to look at other options.”
Those options will likely come from in-house. Myers is ahead of schedule in his rehab and will earn the right to regain his starting position. Jalil Anibaba, whom the team acquired to complete the Collin trade last week, can also play that spot.
That will give the defense a new look on its right side, with stalwarts Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic occupying the left side of the back line. Vermes is banking on Ike Opara returning for the start of preseason. Opara would battle Anibaba to play alongside Besler, a spot occupied by Aurelien Collin for the past four seasons.
Given the sum of those parts, Vermes said he believes the 2015 roster will be an improved one — even after trading four-year veterans C.J. Sapong and Collin.
Those moves, Vermes explained, were necessitated by the salary cap and a looming expansion draft. There was belief Sapong would have been taken in the MLS Expansion Draft last week, in which case Sporting KC would have received nothing in return. Instead, it got a first-round pick from Philadelphia and will have three first-round selections in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft.
Sporting KC was unable to meet the financial demands of Collin, who was out of contract, so Vermes jumped on an opportunity to pick up allocation money and Anibaba from Orlando City SC.
“We’re truly making decisions based on everybody involved, and these decisions aren’t taken lightly,” Vermes said. “In those two deals, it’s about trying to get some value rather than letting someone walk for nothing.”
Collin’s departure opens up some avenues for additions, given his $275,000 salary last season is coming off the books.
And Sporting KC remains in excellent shape with its allocation money, Vermes said, adding that the club retains funds from the transfers of Kei Kamara and Uri Rosell and the trade of Collin to Orlando City SC.
The team has used much of its finances to retain its own stars. Besler and Graham Zusi earned designated player contracts this summer after they flirted with the possibility of overseas transfers. Sporting KC’s extension of Dwyer was a reward for a player who broke the club’s single-season franchise scoring record with 22 goals.
Dwyer said the extension, which a source told The Star is for multiple years, was a signal for clubs in his native England to “back off” their interest.
“It’s a club that first believed in me and drafted me. It’s something I wanted to do. I’m very excited for it,” Dwyer said. “It’s nice not being concerned about that stuff now, and I can focus on what really matters, and that’s playing (soccer), getting better and bringing more championships to Kansas City.”
Even after the raises to Dwyer, Besler and Zusi, Sporting KC still has enough allocation funds to support flexibility within its roster. For example, it could buy down Zusi, Besler or Claudio Beiler’s designated player status, therefore opening up a spot for a potential addition.
But Vermes has illustrated a preference to build depth within the roster rather than bringing in a big-name draw from the outside.
Toronto FC gave Michael Bradley $6.5 million this season. Seattle guaranteed Clint Dempsey similar money.
Orlando City SC and New York City FC will join the league next season with high-profile and high-dollar players. Orlando City FC will pay Kaka more than $7 million, according to figures released by the MLS Players Union. New York City FC, another expansion team, will pay David Villa somewhere around $6 million, according to a recent report from Sports Illustrated.
Sporting KC isn’t looking to add players of that cost anytime soon.
“We’re just not there yet, at least not in this next three-year window, I would say,” Vermes said. “For us, it’s looking at our team and roster differently. We’ve gone about building our team in a different way than most teams in the MLS, and we’ve found success with that.”