There was an entire mailbag to be composed this week out of center defender transfer talk and general transfer-target questions.
Then, Sporting Kansas City and goalkeeper Luis Marin* agreed to mutually part ways. Which gives our weekly mailbag a different focus. (There will still be some defender/transfer talk, don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten those questions.)
*RIP to the nickname “Chilean Rob Riggle.” I felt like I barely got to really use it enough. Welcome to the Tim “Real Dealia” Melia era. (You have to listen to the most recent SKC episode of the Talkin’ Touches podcast to appreciate how generally terrible that nickname and joke is/was.)
Let’s open this up and get to the answering.
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Yes. It’s time.
Melia has performed well for Sporting Kansas City over the last four games. He has been extremely active and confident between the posts — two words that didn’t always describe Kansas City’s last four starting goalkeepers. He hasn’t been perfect, but he’s been reliable. (Don’t sleep on the fact that Matt Besler has played much better with Melia around — he has to do a lot of organizing back there and knowing exactly what to expect from his goalkeeper is a huge help.)
Tim Melia hasn’t been the second-coming of Tony Meola,* but he’s been very solid. Which is a word that can describe a lot of goalkeepers in this league. He’s 29 years old and getting his first chance to fully embrace the No. 1 job. Goalkeepers tend to hit their primes later than out-field players. Embrace the Melia.
*But, whoa, it just hit me how similar their names and back stories are! Both are from New Jersey. Both played lower-division soccer in New York the U.S. before hooking up with an MLS team. (Though, caveat time, there wasn’t an MLS when Meola played for the Long Island Rough Riders.) Both made their way to KC. That’s kind of where the similarities stop, though.
According to my colleague Sam McDowell, it was Marin who approached Kansas City about a family issue he needed to settle back in Chile. If that’s truly the case*, I wish him luck. I can’t imagine how hard it would be (even for someone in their 30s) to work overseas and have a family issue arise.
*A more cynical person might think that “family” issue is that he was firmly planted to the bench next to the coaching staff when he was brought in to start. But we try not to be THAT cynical around here. We just acknowledge that cynicism can exist.
Nothing about this situation seems planned or deliberate by any party. Which leaves Kansas City in a bit of a bind (with the transfer window closed).
Sam and I discussed the situation on video this week, check it out for more.
The timing of the conversation between Peter Vermes-Marin was somewhat fortuitous. Had Marin waited until after this weekend’s game against Dallas, there’s a very good chance that Jon Kempin would’ve been cup-tied with the San Antonio Scorpions.
It would have made Kempin, who was recalled to serve as Melia’s back-up, ineligible to play in the U.S. Open Cup next month. (One of the main reasons that Kempin was sent to the Scorpions was because he needed to get playing time. If he’s back in KC and can’t play in the Open Cup games, that’s a season of potential playing/developing time washed out.)
Now Kempin is back in KC and back training with the first team.
I think KC will (for now) roll with just Melia/Kempin. The Cody Cropper item, I think, is probably a bit of wishful thinking. (Also, he might not be good. The U-23s with Cropper in net got spanked by France in the Toulon Tournament on Wednesday.)
Cropper and Kempin are both theoretically competing for playing time with the U.S. U-23s for Olympic qualifying.* I don’t think I can see Vermes doubling down on both of them playing on the same team. This isn’t Philadelphia. Cropper will also likely find a spot on a team in England.
*Also a thing to ponder, there’s a pretty decent chance that Kempin gets called into an U-23 camp this summer. Which would leave KC grasping for the pool goalkeeper to back-up Melia — a former pool goalkeeper. So Vermes might have to look to bring in someone else just to have a warm body around.
OK, here’s where this transaction gets really interesting. With Marin gone, Kansas City now has an extra roster spot (and an international spot as well). That would put KC with 26 players on the roster (including Ike Opara) and two open spots.
As I understand it from the MLS Roster Rules, Kansas City can name an injury replacement in Opara’s place (and put him on season-ending injured reserve) only if they have the budget space available. That’s a big unknown at this point, since the salaries haven’t been divulged yet.
So, Kansas City has (at least) an open spot for a new player (even an international) and (most likely) a little bit of room under the cap.
But… where to spend it?
Central defense remains a big area concern among the people who tweet at me (or whose tweets I see in my timeline). I’ve heard that it’s on Kansas City’s mind too. The intention this year was to ride Besler-Opara as the starters with Jalil Anibaba, Erik Palmer-Brown and Kevin Ellis behind them. It’s not a terrible plan — however, Chance Myers’ recovery and injuries to Marcel De Jong and Seth Sinovic have complicated that plan.
Anibaba is now the right back until Myers returns. Palmer-Brown is training for the U-20 World Cup. And Ellis has been a bit of an adventure. I think he was quite good against Seattle and will continue to learn the spot on the job. Which has made some sections a bit restless.
Let’s hold that thought on transfer targets for a second to talk about the state of CBs in MLS. Apparently, finding good CBs is pretty hard to do right now.
The Seattle Sounders have converted fullback/midfielder Brad Evans into a central defender this year (with mixed results). Dallas has turned former right back Zach Loyd into a pretty good CB — his absence the last two weeks has really hurt the team as well. The New England Revolution have (with less than mixed results, mostly bad) turned to Jermaine Jones in that spot. The New York Red Bulls are so desperate for help right now they turned to Roy Miller last week (it did not go well at all).
Real Salt Lake has had trouble finding someone to slot next to Jameson Olave with Chris Schuler out. The Los Angeles Galaxy have tried a few different guys next to Omar Gonzalez. Toronto has issues along the back-line. And I’ve lost track of how many guys Philadelphia has suited up at CB this year. (OK, I looked it up, it’s just four.)
It seems like starting-caliber central defenders are in very short supply. This shortage is compounded by roster changes this year (teams can have only 28 players) that make carrying a fourth or fifth CB who is a finished product a luxury that teams just can’t afford.
Many teams are one injury away from a crisis — kinda like what KC is facing.
So, who’s out there on the horizon that might help solve that crisis?
Since the summer transfer window for MLS doesn’t open until July 8, the rumors about non-big name players are pretty sparse.
Vermes has a pretty extensive scouting network in Europe (Krisztian Nemeth, Oriol Rosell, Jimmy Nielsen, etc.) and he might be dialing up that network for later this summer. (Though, he’s had fairly mixed results with mid-season defensive acquisitions.) It’s a big world filled with lots of players, it might be wise to start looking at players who may be out of contract when the European seasons come to a close.
I think he’ll have to make at least one addition, just so he’ll have enough bodies to make up a game-day roster. The Gold Cup is in July and could potentially leave Vermes without Matt Besler, Marcel De Jong, Roger Espinoza and Soni Mustivar.
If you’re looking at current targets who would be sooner than July, though, there are just two central defenders (available and likely interested) that I can think of:
Will Packwood (former of Birmingham in the English Championship) is currently out of contract — and just got passed over by the New England Revolution this week.
Oguchi Onyewu (former U.S. World Cup starter and soccer vagabond) is on a two-week trial with New York City FC.
Of those two, Packwood has the most potential — and is probably the most reasonably priced. Onyewu would’ve been a great buy a few years ago. Now? Not so much.
TL;DR: It’s complicated, CBs are in short supply, maybe not a move until July and maybe a player we’ve not heard of yet.
I think he struggled replacing Dwyer mostly because the game-plan in Seattle didn’t really suit his strengths as a forward. Kansas City’s plan was to sit back (and drop the wide attackers into the midfield) and absorb pressure from Seattle — which offered very little support to Nemeth. He seems like he needs a partner up top, someone who can help him do the running and provide some helpful geometry.
With Dwyer “highly questionable” for Friday night, I think we’ll get a chance to see Nemeth operate within a slightly different framework. First, he’ll probably have Graham Zusi to help with that geometry. Second, he’ll have a more ambitious version of Benny Feilhaber (who was very deep against the Sounders). Third, Kansas City will likely have more possession against Dallas — and Nemeth is a guy who seems to perform better when he’s part of an attack that has been building.
I’m not sure, given how injuries have and form issues have developed the last 18 months, that I’m ready to call having six capable players in a demanding position like fullback a surplus.
While Amadou Dia has performed well in his more natural leftback position, I still think he still has a lot of development before he’s ready to push for starting minutes when everyone’s healthy. Same for Saad Abdul-Salaam.
Myers will come back in good time (probably about a month before he starts to actually get involved in games). The nature of Sinovic’s injury (listed as “concussion” and he’s been ruled out for Friday’s game) means his return is a little up in the air. (Columbus’ Wil Trapp has missed more than a month dealing with concussion symptoms. They impact everyone a little differently.) De Jong has also missed a few games now and will likely miss the month of July on Canada’s Gold Cup team.
I don’t think KC will move one of the fullbacks — unless Abdul-Salaam goes back to San Antonio on loan somehow.
I think Myers and De Jong would be the preferred pairings. I was a little curious as to why De Jong was getting minutes ahead of Sinovic (who I continue to think is a very solid fullback), but I think De Jong offers a lot more in the attacking half — which is something that Vermes really likes.
What I wouldn’t mind seeing at some point this year: Sinovic/Myers at fullback with De Jong/Zusi up top as wingers. (I’d have Nemeth playing as the underneath striker/attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation in that scenario.)
Thanks for the questions again this week. There were a few I just didn’t have time to get too — including one about passing style/numbers that might require a bit more research.