Sporting Kansas City is a very different franchise now than a few years ago: A new stadium, name, kit and style of play have all benefited the team and the city that lays on both Kansas and Missouri soil.
Yet, the club has failed to capitalize on their excellent regular season in both 2011 and 2012. The team’s Eastern Conference Semifinal loss to the Houston Dynamo showcased an extremely talented team that needed more depth and better finishing; or more finishing and better depth. Missing out on the MLS Cup yet again, Sporting KC may have reached a crossroads.
Last week, Sporting KC released four players in the league’s waiver draft. Though only one of which, Julio Cesar, was a regular contributor to the club. Cesar had appeared in 58-matches for the team, and after a slow start to his Sporting KC career, became an important part of the squad as a holding midfielder.
At 34, and admittedly error prone, Cesar’s time in MLS looks finished unless he is willing to take a considerable wage cut. The Brazilian was Sporting KC’s highest paid player in 2012 at $252,000. Getting his salary off the wage bill will give the club room to sign one or even two adequate replacements. It will also be the second consecutive year the club has gotten one of their highest wage earners off the roster – Davy Arnaud was the one moved on at the end of 2011.
In addition, the club will most likely need to replace another one of their more influential players in 2012. Roger Espinoza, who truly shot on to the world’s soccer radar at the Olympics, is sure to sign with a club in Europe; with England’s Wigan rumored to be leading the race.
A season ago, Espinoza was shifting between midfield and left-back for Sporting KC prior to the signing of Seth Sinovic. Therefore, the Honduran’s rapid rise over the past year as a central midfielder has been remarkable and owes a lot to the exposure he had at the Olympics.
Espinoza’s transformation from below average left-sided midfielder to usable left-back to a desirable central midfielder has shown the development that can happen in MLS – need more convincing, just look at Chris Wondolowski‘s rise in San Jose.
The Honduran international could even have been a US international after becoming a US citizen in 2008. Unfortunately for USMNT fans, coaches looked elsewhere and with Espinoza’s emergence only recent, it’s understandable the Honduran international wasn’t pursued four years ago.
His departure will be felt, but with Graham Zusi’s continued improvement – just as, if not more important than Espinoza – and the mid-summer signing of ex-Barcelona B player Oriol “Uri” Rosell, should lessen the impact of Espinoza‘s departure.
However, Sporting KC is a club with a thin bench of quality MLS players already. The loss of these two veterans could have lasting affects in 2013.
To make matters worse, Sporting KC’s spine my be affected even more during the close season. Down The Byline recently reported, MLS Defender of the Year Matt Besler is out of contract. And while the fervor of Besler hasn’t been the same as Espinoza, his departure may hit the team harder than that of the midfielder or Cesar.
If Sporting KC lose all three players in the end, it could have a detrimental affect on the team. Replacing one starter is never easy, and replacing three quality players from the starting XI at the same time could be almost impossible. Especially, when the players help form the team’s spine.
One thing the club won’t have to worry about is manager Peter Vermes. A few weeks ago, club CEO Robb Heinemen Tweeted Vermes was close to signing a contract extension – that could be a reality by now as the news, transparency and communications of MLS’ teams is rather lacking at times .
Vermes’ eye for talent has been one of the biggest positives for the team since joining the club as Technical Director in 2006. He has overseen the development of Espinoza, Zusi, Teal Bunbury and C.J. Sapong since taking over as head coach in 2009. And helped to turn the club around and usher them into the Sporting-era.
Yet, as fans know, MLS can be completely different year-to-year. Sporting KC is just as likely to finish top of the league as the team is to finish outside the playoffs.
In 2013, the club will be fighting on three fronts and will need all the depth they can get. Next season, the club will hope to build off the success of this season, and since Vermes took control he has improved the club year-by-year.
Next year maybe make or break for Sporting KC. Can the team build off their two previous seasons or will Sporting KC become a team that is unable to progress in the playoffs?
Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @CalcioFarmer and read Drew’s work at MLSTalk and Forzaitalianfootball.com, where he covers Italy’s Genoa CFC. Drew also hosts the Forzaitalianfootball.com weekly Club Focus podcast and writes his own personal football and travel blog at Excellent Adventure/Bogus Journey.