The Full 90

Sporting in Review, Part 3: A busy offseason awaits Sporting KC

Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes smiles as he looks at the scoreboard during the CONCACAF Champions League group stage soccer match against Real Esteli on Sept. 23 at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. Sporting KC defeated Real Esteli 3-0.
Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes smiles as he looks at the scoreboard during the CONCACAF Champions League group stage soccer match against Real Esteli on Sept. 23 at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. Sporting KC defeated Real Esteli 3-0. The Kansas City Star

After a frustrating season (chronicled in Part One and Two of this season in review), Sporting Kansas City heads into a busy and potentially turbulent offseason.

With the team heading to the highly competitive Western Conference next season, a two-team expansion draft looming, potential changes to the roster in the future and a few players up for review, technical director and coach Peter Vermes has a lot of work to do between now and January.

There are building blocks already in place and I don’t believe that one down year necessarily means a trend is coming. The team needs to make changes to its roster and add a few reinforcements for sure, but it also needs a few key players to get some much-needed rest and time to heal.

Without the added challenges of CONCACAF Champions League and World Cup fatigue, Kansas City should be in a good position to challenge for the Open Cup, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup next season.

However, there are a lot of questions to answer first. I think you’d have to go back to 2010 to remember a season with so many just hovering above the club.

Will the team re-sign popular French defender Aurelien Collin? What will happen to out-of-favor designated player Claudio Bieler? Is Jorge Claros the long-term answer to replace Oriol Rosell? Is Roger Espinoza coming back? When?

How healthy will Chance Myers and Ike Opara be when training camp opens?

Will both Eric Kronberg or Andy Gruenebaum return? Who starts?

Is Igor Juliao coming back on loan from Fluminense? Or, will another Fluminense player come to town as part of the deal between the two clubs? Did the young players who got a taste this year (Juliao, Kevin Ellis, Jon Kempin, Mikey Lopez) take a leap this offseason?

Will fringe starters C.J. Sapong and Soony Saad come back ready to prove themselves? Will either come back at all?

Will a month away from soccer recharge Matt Besler and Graham Zusi? What does Kansas City need to do to keep Dom Dwyer employed and happy? Same question for Benny Feilhaber, as both are more than likely going to draw interest.

Who’s the next player off the Vermes scouting network assembly line? Is there another Homegrown player coming?

It’s impossible to answer all of these questions at this stage, obviously. We’ll start to know some of the direction KC is heading though in the next few weeks as the league’s explosion of drafts and trade windows starts quite soon.

Literally one day after the MLS Cup Final (Dec. 7), there will be a half-day trade window that will allow teams to swap players or re-sign their own players. The Orlando City/New York City expansion draft is Dec. 10 — and a one-day trade window will open immediately after the draft.

On Dec. 12, phase one of the MLS re-entry draft (basically, the MLS version of free agency) begins. Yet another trade window opens immediately after and closes before phase two of the re-entry draft on Dec. 18.

Somewhere in the middle of that draft/trade window madness, the Chivas USA Dispersal Draft will happen. Also, teams will waive players too.

After that, the MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 15.

The two biggest potential areas of external need should be in the midfield — even if Claros is the long-term answer at defensive midfielder, KC is shallow of MLS talent in that area — and out wide. Kansas City operates at a higher level with a menacing/tackling presence in midfield — whether it’s the anarchy of Espinoza or the calm control of Oriol Rosell/Julio Cesar.

As for out wide, one of KC’s best features in recent history was an athletic advantage out wide, either through Kei Kamara or C.J. Sapong. That wasn’t the case this year. It wouldn’t hurt to have someone in that position who could also pitch in and help Dwyer carry the load in scoring too — Zusi, usually on the left side, was KC’s second-leading scorer with 5 goals this year.

The biggest potential internal situations: Deciding what to do with Collin — a MLS Defender of the Year candidate when on form but a hand-waving and too-aggressive tackler when not — and figuring out how to keep the team’s leading goal scorer, Dwyer, from potentially jumping to Europe.

*Oh, and, probably, finding a tactical solution to implement this year to solve the struggles KC has had breaking down bunkered teams at Sporting Park. Over the last two years, Sporting KC is 15-9-10 at Sporting Park. That’s just not good enough.

Collin, whose contract is expiring this year, could be headed out of town. Or he could be staying. Your opinion on which is most likely depends on how you read his vague twitter send off after the Red Bulls game.

The Star’s Sam McDowell had an excellent post on this on Monday about the uncertainty of his future. The team made him a bona fide offer, which hints that they want him back should he decide to stay in MLS.* (The two sides however seem to be a good distance apart and, I think he leaves for a team overseas, personally.)

*One thing is for sure, players signing new contracts this season (if they are smart) will wait until after the CBA has been sorted out. If they sign too early, there’s a good chance they are going to lose money. (He watched his partner Besler get paid, it’s likely Collin wants to see some come his way too.)

We’ve spent a lot of this three-part series discussing what went wrong last year. It’s worth noting that some things went very well — namely, Dwyer and Feilhaber.

Dwyer was a revelation this season, breaking the team’s franchise scoring record with 22 goals. Feilhaber was the most consistent player this year and showed everyone the Benny Feilhaber that everyone thought they’d see when he came to MLS a few seasons ago.

Their parting gift to Kansas City fans? This goal against New York.

*That might be the best goal KC scored this year, BTW. It was a transition goal borne out of a smart interception in midfield and a direct run at the defense. Didn’t really get to see that a lot late in the season.

The other reason for hope? Kansas City has the building blocks still to be an MLS contender in 2015: Belser and Zusi signed their big contracts this summer and will be here for a while. With Dwyer, Feilhaber and Seth Sinovic, that’s a solid foundation to build on. Eric Palmer-Brown, Ellis and Juliao will all be a year older and, possibly, have a chance to grow out of the spotlight next season.

While there are a lot of unknowns (and some knowns — like KC needing to bring in some fresh bodies on the bench), there is still a good foundation going forward in 2015.

There should still be money in the bank after the sale of Rosell — even after paying Zusi/Besler — leaving some allocation money to splash around. The expansion draft potentially could relieve KC of a used roster spot too.

This isn’t a particularly deep college draft (from what I’ve heard), but Kansas City will have two picks in the first round of the SuperDraft — one in the middle, one wherever New England’s pick winds up (which could be very late) — and one pick in the second round.

Those picks packaged with some allocation money could help facilitate some trade action should Vermes opt for that route.

Depending on how the offseason shakes out, Kansas City could also be in the market for a big-name national team (or national team adjacent player) such as Jozy Altidore (who needs a move away from England), Brek Shea (ditto) or Mikkel Diskerud (though, he appears to be firmly on Columbus’ radar). Making a move for someone of that stature would mean KC needs to jump to the top of the allocation order (or whatever designated-player list MLS holds secret).*

*I wouldn’t hold my breath on any of them. A move for, say, Espinoza might suck up a lot of resources.

The international transfer window opens on Jan. 1 (with the incoming MLS window opening later, closer to the regular season). By then, we should know a lot about which direction KC’s re-loading plan is headed.

The offseason might not seem very long — basically, two months — but it’s packed with a lot of activity.

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