The Full 90

Full 90 Mailbag: Sporting KC’s offseason evolution begins

Sporting KC goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum (30) disagreed with a referee's call during the CONCACAF Champions League match against Deportivo Saprissa in September. Gruenebaum’s option was declined by Kansas City on Wednesday.
Sporting KC goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum (30) disagreed with a referee's call during the CONCACAF Champions League match against Deportivo Saprissa in September. Gruenebaum’s option was declined by Kansas City on Wednesday. The Kansas City Star

This was never going to be a smooth offseason. Not after Sporting Kansas City’s months-long slump that saw them fall first out of contention for the Supporters’ Shield and then out of the playoffs.

The expansion draft was always going to take a bite (or maybe two), but natural turnover was going to play a part too.

On Wednesday, Peter Vermes took the first steps toward building his 2015 squad (which, reminder, will be in the stacked Western Conference), and it was quite a bold stroke.

The team declined contract options for Spanish winger Antonio Dovale, goalkeepers Andy Gruenebaum and Eric Kronberg, midfielder Sal Zizzo and reserves Michael Kafari and Victor Munoz. Also, SKC and Lawrence Olum mutually terminated his contract and he appears headed to Malaysia.

As part of this process, KC has four players out of contract — Aurelien Collin, Kevin Ellis, Jacob Peterson and Soony Saad. Contract negotiations are ongoing — it’s not a certainty that each player will re-sign or even be protected in the upcoming expansion draft.

Which makes this a good time for a mailbag. These are all questions solicited on Twitter.

Vermes is most likely clearing out space on his roster. With all of the offseason changes, the biggest one might be the coming collective bargaining agreement. With the status of the roster rules not clearly defined, it makes sense to lock down the top-level players while keeping your options open at the middle and lower levels.

Vermes was fairly candid when talking to The Star’s Sam McDowell about the decisions. “We have to keep evolving as a team. Change is inevitable.”

These moves give KC a little flexibility to evolve and some space to work with.

As of the last numbers released by the MLSPA, KC shed about $583,000 in guaranteed compensation and opened up two international slots with these cuts. It might not matter once the roster rules are more clear, but KC now has five spots open on the senior roster (the 20 players who count toward the salary cap) and eight open roster spots (out of 30) overall.

None of the cuts were that surprising given the team’s overall form.

Munoz and Kafari never made a league appearance. Zizzo was a bit disappointing this year after a bright start. I figured both Kronberg and Gruenebaum would be left unexposed to the expansion draft after neither truly locked down KC’s goalkeeper situation, releasing them in this way allows KC to find a new solution at goalkeeper.

Olum was a tremendous servant for the club when called upon, but wasn’t really a building block for the future.

Dovale might have been the most shocking, but he wasn’t the answer often for KC on the wing. His tendency to tuck inside and create from the wing severely overlapped with the skill set of Graham Zusi.

I would be shocked if KC didn’t move on a goalkeeper this offseason. He said as much on Wednesday, saying the team is “actively pursuing other opportunities” at goalkeeper.

Maybe there’s an international out there PV has his eye on. Or maybe another option in the league might present itself. Perhaps the team wants to bring in a veteran to help organize the back line and solidify the process to bring Kempin along.

There’s a very small transaction window ahead of the expansion draft — I expect KC to be fairly active. Just an idea: Sporting KC has two first-round draft picks, open international spots and some allocation money. Dallas currently has three potential first-choice goalkeepers now. Just saying.

However, I think we are entering the initial stages of the Kempin Zone. Meaning, he showed enough promise this past summer when he got thrown into a dicey situation that KC can likely move forward with him as the prime backup. (Thus, one or both of the veterans became more expendable.)

Olum was a fine player — never forget his Open Cup and MLS Cup performances or the goal that got the MLS Cup in Sporting Park — but his limitations were visible this year. KC was built as a team that builds from the back and that was never Olum’s strength. His positional sense — a bolster in those big games in 2012 and ’13 — also eluded him this year.

I think the decision to mutually terminate his contract had more to do with his ceiling as a regular player with this team.

Going forward, Olum wasn’t going to be the answer. He wasn’t a good enough passer and he didn’t have enough speed to cover as much ground as was obviously required. Which isn’t weird considering he was a central defender first. Now, he gets to move on to another professional league and keep his dream of playing for the Kenyan national team alive.

I think Jorge Claros is going to get a shot at the starting spot. He joined the team midseason — a tough ask for such a demanding position in Vermes’ system — and should benefit from a full preseason to work out the balance of the midfield.

Mikey Lopez could definitely see a more expanded role, but based on what I’ve seen he isn’t quite physically ready for that particular role.

Of course this could leave room for another midfielder…

Or, another one?

Mix Diskerud would be an interesting addition to Major League Soccer. But, could he work with Sporting KC? I can’t really see it. Not with Benny Feilhaber around, as the two need to inhabit the same space in the middle. Both would likely overlap as they try to link play and then create in the final third. (Of course, this is the same sort of problem I thought we’d see with Feilhaber and Zusi too.)

Let’s say KC does make a move for Mix though and slots him next to Benny. That’s a pretty nice attacking combo, but you’d probably need Claude Makélélé in his prime behind them to mop up turnovers, recycle possession and destroy any attacking moves that got through (which would happen a lot).

Mix is an excellent passer and a still-developing midfielder, but from the limited action I’ve seen with the U.S. national team, he seems a little too lightweight for KC’s midfield. (Obviously, that’s a criticism you could’ve leveled at Feilhaber in 2013.) Plus Zusi, Feilhaber and Mixx is one too many playmaking midfielders isn’t it?

OK, how about one more?

Yes, Michael Bradley would be a perfect fit with Feilhaber and KC’s midfield. However… there’s no way Toronto parts ways with Bradley after one season. No way.

After this tweet from Sam McDowell:

I have no idea what to think anymore vis-à-vis KC’s bench DP. No idea.

Now, time for the most pressing question of the entire mailbag…

How did Vermes not take this into consideration? He is messing with off-the-field perfection.

If you can conceive of a Benny Feilhaber Show without Sal — and I barely can — how would you even replace him? Who would you replace him with?

I don’t even know where to start, but Jacob Peterson would absolutely destroy as the bad-ass sidekick who didn’t even care that the show was going on right?

Another option? Professional individual beach volleyball player Josh Gardner should be free.

Thanks for the questions this week. Have a great Thanksgiving.