The Full 90

Sporting KC plans for future with sale of Oriol Rosell

Sporting KC midfielder Oriol Rosell shows off his MLS Cup championship ring last month. Rosell was sold on Tuesday to Sporting CP in Portugal.
Sporting KC midfielder Oriol Rosell shows off his MLS Cup championship ring last month. Rosell was sold on Tuesday to Sporting CP in Portugal. The Kansas City Star

Selling a player as talented, respected, enjoyable to watch and revered as Oriol Rosell is never going to be an easy pill to swallow.

Simply stating the economic benefits of selling him or the additional flexibility Sporting Kansas City will gain isn’t going to help make the pill go down any better. Even if both are absolutely true and played significant factors in the move.

Uri was the anchor of the team’s midfield. An exceptional passer who excelled at calm distribution, he was instrumental in orchestrating Kansas City’s attack. He was also vitally important in breaking up the opponent’s attacks with well-timed interceptions. He was also extremely young and oozing potential. Many, including myself, could’ve seen him developing into one of Major League Soccer’s best midfielders in a few years.

“It was a decision we made as an organization that was good for both sides,” Sporting KC coach and technical director Peter Vermes told The Star on Tuesday. “Uri’s been great for us. Now it’s time for us to move on to the next step.”

The “next step” is important in that sentence. Vermes is always thinking about the evolution of his roster. Since taking over as coach in 2010, he hasn’t shied away from tough decisions. Whether it be trading Kevin Hartman and Jack Jewsbury, letting Roger Espinoza walk, or selling Kei Kamara.*

*That’s not to say every decision has been a home run. Lest we forget the Pablo Escobar era.

Think of it this way: Rosell has been consistently good for Kansas City and has earned a chance to take an (assumed) increase in salary. Sporting KC received an invaluable resource (money) that will allow them flexibility to keep evolving into the future. That, like the move with Kei Kamara, is a win-win.

Of course, it’s hard to hear talk about the past and the future when the present is an ugly five-game winless streak and a defense struggling to find four healthy bodies to play together.

Staying in the present tense, there isn’t a single player on the roster capable of playing defensive midfielder at Uri’s level. Benny Feilhaber can duplicate the passing acumen, but isn’t quite as defensively sound. Also, his creativity is sorely missed for KC further up the field. Lawrence Olum can cover the ground and break up play, but he isn’t a prolific passer. Paulo Nagamura isn’t fast enough. Alex Martinez not experienced enough.

If Kansas City doesn’t back up this move with activity in the transfer market, we can all come back and revisit this topic.

But that’s how the economics of Major League Soccer work. The league, despite growth and expansion, is still a relative minnow in the world transfer market. Even after the big splashes of Clint Dempsey, Jermain Defoe and, soon, David Villa, most MLS teams are hampered by salary caps and roster restrictions. It’s an uphill battle trying to attract and keep talent.

Especially after a team becomes highly visible. Like, say, after winning a championship.

Because of these factors, an MLS roster is a constantly mutating organism. It’s fluid in a way that NFL and NBA rosters aren’t. One move often requires another move to set it up — a situation that often requires blind faith on the part of the fandom. As is the case now.

“We’re in a place where at times you can’t compete with foreign clubs because of the kind of dynamics they have in regards to finances. We have a salary cap. They don’t. So certain situations dictate what you have to do,” Vermes said. “But we’ve always managed to do the right thing, especially for the long term of our organization. As much as we liked Uri and he liked it here and everything else and he fit into our team well, there’s other guys that can play there and will do a good job for us.”

Sporting KC’s CEO Robb Heineman told Sam McDowell that the money from the sale of Uri will be used to add transfers and potentially extend the contracts of existing players, such as Matt Besler and Graham Zusi.

He’s talking about allocation money. Which is the lifeblood of an MLS team. The money generated by a transfer can be used as allocation money to buy down budget charges and sign new players. If Kansas City is lining up a move for a new designated player (say, maybe, a midfielder), it would need cap flexibility and money to do so.

Of course, it was a good bit of business for Sporting KC. If reports are correct and KC is going to get more than $1 million, well that’s one third of the team’s total salary cap. The front office acquired Uri on a free transfer. That’s an exceptional return on investment.

However, many fans aren’t likely to view players as investments. Nor should they. Fans view them, rightly, as players. Often, objects of adoration is more accurate.

Which is why it’s often tough to see them go. Especially when you don’t have the ability to see what the next move is yet.

This is a process of evolution. In a league that’s ripe with parity, there’s a very short shelf life on being good. Sometimes, the tough decision — which teams like Los Angeles, Salt Lake and Kansas City make on the regular — is to sell a player at an opportune time to lay the groundwork for another move in the difficult job of fighting to stay on top.