The Full 90

Full 90 Mailbag: What does Sporting KC need to do to compete in the West? What will KC do in the offseason drafts?

The Kansas City Star

Even though the playoffs are just about upon us (Sporting KC vs. New York, 7 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2), many of the #AskTheFull90 questions this week are already looking ahead to the bleak post-playoff future.

The expansion draft, the Chivas USA dispersal draft, the SuperDraft*, the future of Claudio Bieler and what changes Sporting KC needs to make as it prepares to re-align to the Western Conference.

*And any other of the 8,000 drafts that seem to crop up in the offseason.

Without further delay, let’s just get right down to it.

The most important thing Peter Vermes will need to solidify is the defensive midfielder spot. Without a top-notch guy in that spot, you’re toast in the West. One reason (of many) why Seattle, Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake survive and thrive in that conference* is that they’ve got Osvaldo Alonso, Juninho and Kyle Beckerman respectively.

*If you missed the news this week: The league is dissolving Chivas USA for the time being and, with the addition of Orlando City and New York City FC, the need to move two teams to the Western Conference. So, KC and Houston head back West.

With the depth of attacking talent out West, you absolutely have to have a guy in the middle who can break up play, recover the ball and start transition play. Kansas City had that with Oriol Rosell, but Lawrence Olum and Jorge Claros have been less reliable. It’s time for Vermes to find the next Uri.

Maybe that can be Roger Espinoza. But, based on the very little I’ve seen of him recently at Wigan, it’s hard to judge if he’s the same player he was when he left.

The second part of this answer depends on exactly who Kansas City actually loses this year.

What if Dom Dwyer hears those siren songs (again) of Europe? What if Aurelien Collin does in fact walk away? Those are two big pieces to replace as well.

Then Vermes has to replace a 22-goal scorer and a former MLS Best XI defender.*

*Some might already argue that replacing Collin is already a priority. He’s not been very good the last few weeks.

I don’t think it would be good business sense for Kansas City to “buy” Espinoza back. KC didn’t receive a transfer fee when he left — which is how they managed to retain his MLS rights.

If he’s coming back to town, it’s because he’s available on a free transfer or on loan from Wigan until his contract runs out.

The injuries throughout the team have provided a very valid reason for KC’s drop in form. But, you’re right that certain areas of the team just didn’t improve.

Kansas City got just seven goals from its non-Dwyer/Zusi forward group of Soony Saad (3 goals), C.J. Sapong (2), Jacob Peterson (2), Toni Dovale (1) and Sal Zizzo (0). Those scoring numbers are down for both Saad and Sapong (both scored four goals last year). Playing time was down as well, as both managed a combined 16 starts this year down from 31. Chance Myers missed nearly seven months this year and had as many starts (7) as Sapong.

That’s just not enough production from two young guys (Saad is just 22, Sapong is 25) that Kansas City needed to make a leap.

The lack of quality depth in midfield was also evident. When Paulo Nagamura went down this summer, Kansas City tried a lot of combinations, but nothing seemed to work. Once the season is officially, we’ll dive into the problems a bit more.

Which draft are you referring too? There are about half a dozen of them between the end of the season and the start of next year. The waiver draft? The re-entry draft? The Chivas USA dispersal draft? The SuperDraft?

I assume you mean the college SuperDraft. Peter Vermes has shown, historically, an eye for talent in the draft. Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Chance Myers and Dom Dwyer are all regulars who came to the league via that route. (Espinoza and Teal Bunbury too.)

This year, Vermes will have three picks in the first two rounds of the SuperDraft — KC’s natural first-round pick, a first-rounder from the Revolution (for Bunbury) and a second rounder from Toronto (for Michael Thomas). Sporting’s natural second-round pick belongs to New England as part of the Benny Feilhaber trade.

The college draft presents a few interesting player options: High-upside Generation adidas players and inexpensive developmental talent are the two most common. Vermes could use both sorts of players to help fill out/challenge for spots at full/wing back and wide forward.

As for one of those other drafts…

Some time this offseason, the league will line up to pick at the carcass of Chivas USA.

I expect that the league will do everything in its power to keep Erick “Cubo” Torres out of a draft like this. ESPN’s Jeffrey Carlisle reported this week that the league is trying to sign him to a designated player contract. How he might be allocated to a team in the league is unclear. (I’m sure the league will do everything possible to make it transparent.)

If this year’s dispersal draft operates like the previous one in 2002, the teams will pick in reverse order of finish — likely meaning Kansas City will pick in the middle of the pack even if the expansion franchises are included.

Which means goalkeeper Dan Kennedy is likely the number one target — which could be very exciting to someone like Montreal. (As he is a goalkeeper, it’s hard to rule out the Philadelphia Union making a trade up to select him. They seem to love collecting goalkeepers in Philly.)

Who’s potentially left? Marvin Chavez and Eric Avila are both serviceable midfielders and MLS veterans. Thomas McNamara was a promising rookie this year before tearing up his leg. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bobby Burling are aging (both are 30) but durable defenders. And Andrew Jean-Baptiste is a young and interesting defensive prospect. (Vermes does seem to relish rebuilding young, interesting defenders.)

That’s not exactly a glut of talent. What should be interesting to watch during the fallout will be what happens to the Chivas Academy — one of the few highlights of the organization. According to the league, they will work internally to find options for those players after closing the academy next summer. Will there be a youth dispersal draft? Or will Los Angeles (or potentially LA2 — who will be taking over for Chivas eventually) absorb that talent?

As for part three of your question: I’d be shocked if the payroll doesn’t go up on account of the new TV deal — and MLS’s need to fill the airwaves with bankable players — but it won’t double. I think we’ll see a fourth (or fifth) designated player spot. More international spots. Potentially new roster spots that make homegrown talent more enticing (like, maybe they don’t count toward the 30-man roster?). That’s all coming real soon with the CBA talks this offseason.

Now, about that other draft…

Well, one of the bigger issues earlier this year was which goalkeeper Kansas City would potentially protect and which would be potentially exposed to New York and Orlando. (I’m working under the assumption that homegrown players such as Jon Kempin are automatically protected and holding on to two ‘keepers is surplus in a draft such as this.)

Right now, I have no idea which one Vermes would keep if he had to choose (or would even want too). Eric Kronberg was the starter when healthy; Andy Gruenebaum outplayed him down the stretch. Neither have been exactly the second coming of the White Puma.

That might have been cleared up on Tuesday when Orlando City traded for Houston’s Tally Hall. (New York City have Josh Saunders under contract, which doesn’t exactly solve the starting goalkeeper situation, but likely makes signing another MLS veteran unlikely.)

If Orlando and NYCFC both have little interest in either Kronberg or Gruenebaum, Kansas City could theoretically dangle both players out there and protect someone else — like Saad.

Not knowing all the rules yet — thanks MLS — I can only speculate on KC’s protected list using information from 2012 (when Montreal joined).

Kansas City’s form over the last three months has made the possibility of losing any number of players likely more palatable than if we did this exercise back in July.

My guess at KC’s 11 protected players*:

Matt Besler (1), Graham Zusi (2), Benny Feilhaber (3), Dom Dwyer (4) and Seth Sinovic (5) are the no-brainers.

Antonio Dovale (6) and Jorge Claros (7) are the prized international players to keep (KC can only expose four of their — by my best guess — seven internationals).

Soony Saad (8) is still a promising young player worth protecting. Paulo Nagamura (9) is a veteran who has no legit backup right now.

The value of Chance Myers (10) has been shown throughout this season — though, I would’ve left him off if we did this exercise in May.

Finally, I’d protect Aurelien Collin (11)— if only because there exists a possibility that he might be better with a new contract and the protection of a more consistent defensive midfielder next year. This could very easily be one of the goalkeepers too.

*This assumes that Kempin, Erik Palmer-Brown, Kevin Ellis and Mikey Lopez are protected by either homegrown or Generation adidas contracts. I left Igor Juliao off because he is technically on loan from his club in Brazil. There is a small chance that KC has to protect Claudio Bieler in this draft — it depends on whether he has a no-trade clause or not. If KC has to protect Bieler and/or Juliao, this might get interesting. I’d probably roll the dice on Nagamura and Myers and hope they roll my way.

That would expose: Sal Zizzo, C.J. Sapong, Bieler (maybe), both goalkeepers, Jimmy Medranda, Lawrence Olum, Ike Opara, Jacob Peterson, Michael Kafari, Christian Duke and Martin Steuble.

Of those remaining players, the hardest to lose would be Peterson (because of his flexibility and intensity) and Opara (but, his health is unknown).

Whether it’s in this expansion draft or in the pre-draft player-movement window, I expect KC to move Sapong. He needs a change of scenery and a return to playing as a central forward.

Here’s a move I’ll throw out there that could help both teams: C.J. Sapong (and maybe Toronto’s 2nd round pick or some allocation money) to Vancouver for Darren Mattocks. Both guys need to restart in a new system. The ‘Caps could use an athletic big man to bring down long balls from Pedro Morales/Mattias Laba while Kansas City needs speed and athleticism out wide.

That’s just a thought from a guy who made the same move during an extended MLS session in Football Manager 2014. (Those are my credentials.)

I’ll close this mailbag up with a Bieler question — one of the many I got.

Bieler played in 13 MLS games and produced two goals. That’s three more games this year than Alex Martinez — who now plays in USL-Pro, the third tier — and as many goals as Jacob Peterson this year.

No matter what the reason for his decline is — whether its him, an injury, a coaching decision, whatever — Kansas City is paying too much (designated player salary/slot) for that sort of production. Which is why I expect him to be moved on this offseason — whether that’s a trade or a move back to South America.

Kansas City might need the freedom of Bieler salary, roster spot and designated-player status, potentially, to even bring back Espinoza.

That’ll wrap up another ‘bag. Sorry if I didn’t have room/space for your questions. Some I want to save for post-season discussion — even though a lot of these were non-playoff questions. In particular, there’s a question about KC’s home form that I’m saving for an extended discussion later on.


Before I roll out, here are “The Guaranteed to be Mostly Wrong MLS Playoff Predictions”

Play-in Games

West: Vancouver over Dallas

East: New York over Kansas City

Conference Semifinals

West: Seattle over Vancouver, Los Angeles over Real Salt Lake

East: D.C. United over New York, New England over Columbus

Conference Finals

West: Los Angeles over Seattle

East: New England over D.C. United

MLS Cup

Los Angeles (hosts) over New England

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