Over the last two years, Sporting Kansas City have turned their attention to foreign waters to attract new players for the team.
They've had a few (mostly) fruitful fishing trips, reeling in 13 foreign-based players -- including designated players Omar Bravo and J´ferson, defender Aurelien Collin and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
The reasons for these trips: a) the fishing is often better in Europe and South America than it is in America, b) the fishing rods have improved thanks to the team's better scouting system, c) the MLS's profile has risen in foreign countries and d) KC have learned from more than a few past mistakes.
When I spoke with assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin during the preseason he felt that this year, the club had the knowledge and the tools to seek out players with specific skills to fit their system -- which is something they hadn't done in years prior.
During Peter Vermes' stint as technical director of Sporting Kansas City (which began before the 2007 season) the team has brought in 20 foreign-based players signed by Vermes since 2007
I thought it would be interesting to track how successful Vermes has been finding foreign-based talent. (Of late, it's the most popular source of new players coming to KC.)
Here are the 20 with their years served in KC, previous team and notable information.
• Carlos Marinelli (2007-2008) | SC Braga (Portugal) | Waived after an uneventful 41-game MLS career.
• Eloy Colombano (2007-2008) | Defensa y Justicia (Argentina) | Signed in August 2007, waived in June 2008 after 17 games and 1 goal.
• Claudio Lopez (2008-2009) | Racing Club (Spain) | The team's first designated player spent two semi-productive years before failing to come to terms with the club before the 2010 season.
• Ivan Trujillo (2008) | Once Caldas/La Equidad (Colombia) | Scored in his debut, was gone by the end of the year.
• Zoltan Hercegfalvi (2009-2010) | Honved (Hungary) | Missed most of 2010 after tearing his ACL in a friendly. Only made 10 appearances during his 2-year loan spell, which ended before the 2011 season.
• Santiago Hirsig (2009-2010) | San Lorenzo (Argentina) | Was a fixture in 2009, but fell out of favor in 2010 and was transferred out by the middle of the season with only 27 appearances.
• Birahim Diop (2010-present) | CS Tiligul-Tiras Tiraspol (Moldova) | The seldom-used midfielder scored an astonishing five goals last season as a make-shift forward. In 2011, he has been used as a defensive midfielder and a useful squad player.
• Ryan Smith (2010-present?) | Crystal Palace (England) | Showed dazzling promise in 2010 but had his season cut short by knee issues and personal problems. Knee injuries kept him out of the team for a bit in 2011 before he left the team for personal reasons. Situation currently unknown -- but likely done with KC. Appeared in 32 games with 4 goals and 7 assists.
• Craig Rocaste (2010-present) | Forest Green Rovers (England) | The commanding midfielder was an essential part of the team last year, is currently recovering from a knee injury.
• Stephane Auvray (2010-present?) | Nimes Olympique (France) | The team loved him in 2010, then he disappeared in 2011. He is currently not training with the team. Made 26 appearances.
• Pablo Escobar (2010) | Deportivo Cali (Colombia) | The gold-standard for failed transfers. Made 7 appearances before being waived before mid-season.
• Jimmy Nielsen (2010-present) | Aalborg (Denmark) | The current No. 1 for Kansas City. Has 46 appearances and 12 shutouts with KC.
• Sunil Chhetri (2010) | Dempo SC (India) | Was quite good for the team's Facebook page, but not much else. Appeared in a U.S. Open Cup game and the Manchester United friendly.
• Nikos Kounenakis (2010) | Aris Limassol (Cyprus) | Was signed mid-season, never made a single appearance and was gone at the end of the year.
• Omar Bravo (2010-present) | Chivas de Guadalajara (Mexico) | Signed last year and then loaned back to Chivas, has made an impression with KC this year with 6 goals in 14 games and an All-Star invitation.
Kansas City signed five new players from former leagues in 2011: Milos Stojcev (FK Borac Cacak/Serbia), Aurelien Collin (Vitoria Setubal/Portugal), Julio Cesar (Maritimo/Portugal), J´ferson (Vasco da Gama/Brazil) and Daneil Cyrus (FC Santa Rosa/Trinidad Tobago). Three of those five are regular starters, but it's too early to call them success or busts. (However... I have a nagging suspicion that Stojcev might fall into the one-year-and-out club.)
That's the list. So, who have been busts? Who have been successes? How good is Peter Vermes at bringing in talent via international transfers?
It's safe to say that Colombano, Trujillo, Chhetri, Escobar and Kounenakis are busts for sure -- none lasted a full year nor made a lasting impact.
Marinelli was hyped and failed to live up to expectations. Zoltan's tenure was cut short by injuries. Hirsig and Auvray fell out of favor in a scant 18 months. Smith has his own issues that aren't quite clear.
That leaves Lopez, Diop, Rocastle, Nielsen and Bravo as the three "successes" for PV against 10 apparent "busts." Though, anytime Diop is considered a "success," that's not a good sign.
Essentially, 25% of Vermes' foreign-signings have worked out, 25% have too small a sample size to judge and 50% have been (or seem to be) busts.
That's actually a better average than most fishing trips I've ever been on. The five players from this year will likely be the tipping point for deciding how good Vermes has been at international signing.
Thankfully, Vermes has a much (much) better track record with the SuperDraft. Nine of the 14 players drafted and signed to contracts under Vermes are still on the roster; five have been instrumental in the team's fortunes this year (Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi and CJ Sapong) and two were key last year (Teal Bunbury and Michael Harrington). The other two: Korede Aiyegbusi and Konrad Warzycha (who is on injured reserve).
Perhaps the domestic fishing is better than we thought.
*Note, the remaining players on the roster were acquired via trade (Kei Kamara, Shavar Thomas and Luke Sassano), domestic signing (Seth Sinovic and Scott Lorenz), an MLS weighted lottery (Soony Saad) and the team's own youth academy (Jon Kempin and Kevin Ellis). Eric Kronberg and Davy Arnaud are the only two players who pre-date Vermes' tenure.