In 2012, Sporting Kansas City won the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, finished 1st in the Eastern Conference and had four players in the MLS Best XI consisting of the Goalkeeper of the Year, Defender of the Year and an MVP finalist. These don’t sound like the credentials of a team that would be making many moves this offseason. Someone obviously didn’t tell that to Robb Heineman and Peter Vermes because they went to work and didn’t stop until they got the players they wanted. In something that would be similar to “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” Sporting KC announced deal after deal every few days for about three weeks. Here are Sporting’s moves in chronological order.
November 19 – Sporting releases Julio Cesar, Cyprian Hedrick, Neven Markovic and Konrad Warzycha
Sporting’s offseason began with a desire to clear up allocation money and international slots. According to financial figures from the 2012 MLS season, Sporting cleared up around $400,000 in allocation money and two international slots in Cesar and Markovic. Cesar being the highest paid player on the team was a huge financial blow and at 34, wasn’t going to fit into Sporting’s long term plans as a player. Hedrick and Warzycha look to head to the lower American soccer leagues and look for an MLS opportunity in the future.
November 27-Roger Espinoza signs for Wigan in the EPL
In a move that Sporting fans realized was inevitable but may not have wanted to believe, Roger Espinoza signed with English Premier League team Wigan Athletic. Espinoza exploded onto the world stage when he represented Honduras in the 2012 London Olympics. In a losing effort, Espinoza earned the respect from the Brazilian players and the fans at St. James Park. In an unprecedented move, the fans of Newcastle gave him a standing ovation after he received his second yellow card. In 90 minutes, he went from a scrappy MLS player with something to prove to an international star competing against the likes of Neymar and destined for possible European greatness. I’m sure Sporting would have loved to keep him or have MLS sell him for some transfer money but they also don’t want to get in the way of Espinoza’s EPL dreams so I join Sporting in wishing Roger Espinoza all the best and will be rooting for him wherever he goes.
December 3-Michael Harrington traded to Portland Timbers and release Korede Aiyegbusi
In another cost cutting move, Michael Harrington was traded to Portland, saving about $150,000 in allocation money. This move is beneficial to both teams. Portland gets an experienced starting defender and Sporting gets more financial freedom. Harrington’s salary was disproportioned compared to the players who were starting above him such as Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic. The two combined make about $20,000 more than Harrington. Sporting sacrifices some depth in losing Harrington, but they can find a backup for a fraction of the price.
December 5-Josh Gardner traded to Sporting KC from Montreal Impact
Josh Gardner’s versatility will be a major asset as Sporting builds depth. The 30 year old defender/midfielder will mainly take over the role of Michael Harrington as well as some midfield work and at about $54,000, they get even more experience at a fraction of the price. Montreal grabs Sporting’s 2nd round Superdraft pick which will help a 2nd year team better themselves.
December 11-US International Benny Feilhaber traded to Sporting KC from New England Revolution
Peter Vermes has tried multiple times to acquire Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber was the white whale to Vermes’ Moby Dick. After being patient, Vermes got his white whale and new #10 for a 2014 1st round and 2015 2nd round Superdraft pick. Feilhaber was one of the reasons for Sporting’s money saving tactics and is taking over where Roger Espinoza played. Feilhaber cost $450,000 last season but it was rumored he took a paycut so I’m curious to see how much he actually does make. Many people are divided on whether or not Feilhaber will help the team. Some say that he’ll be a distraction due to his past. The way I see it, Vermes would know more about dealing with Benny Feilhaber than any of us. Vermes coached Feilhaber when he was an assistant coach for the U-20 US team and has tried multiple times to sign him. And if he does prove to be a distraction, Vermes will have no hesitation in cutting him loose *cough Bravo *cough.
December 12-Defender of the Year, Matt Besler, Re-Signs with Sporting KC; Trades for Ike Opara from San Jose Earthquakes
After reports of winter trials with teams in England and Belgium, local Kansas City native Matt Besler decided to call KC home for a bit longer. While I do want to see American players like Besler and Graham Zusi eventually test Europe, Besler isn’t ready yet to go to Europe. I do expect Besler to get called up to the US Men’s National Team this winter (as well as potentially other Sporting players) and will be the breakout star, similar to what Zusi did for the US squad last year.
Later that same day, Sporting announced that they traded a 2nd round pick in the 2013 Superdraft to San Jose for the 23 year old defender. Opara will be another additional piece to add to the depth of the team and is definitely someone who will do some great things for that back four.
December 13-Yann Songo’o signs with Sporting KC
Just a day after the Opara trade, Sporting signed Yann Songo’o. Songo’o, the 21 year old Cameroon native, strengthens the already incredible back four that only allowed 27 regular season goals and now are well stocked. Sporting goes from a squad which had a back four but hardly any depth to now having four capable reserves who are capable of starting in Gardner, Olum, Opara and Songo’o.
December 18-Sporting KC unveils new Designated Player, Claudio Bieler
One glaring hole Sporting Kansas City needed to fill this offseason was a goalscorer who could finish consistently. Sporting is high pressure, high attacking team that took 542 shots (1st in MLS in 2012) as a team, but only had 158 (29.1%) of those shots on target (7th in MLS in 2012) and only scored 42 goals (Tied for 12th in MLS in 2012). One notable player who was influential in Sporting’s lack of finishing was Kei Kamara. Kamara led the league in shots (134) but finished tied for 11th in goals scored (11) Kamara’s 8.2% shots to goals ratio was far and away below other goal scorers in the league. Out of the top 50 MLS goal scorers, Kamara was ranked 47th in shots to goals ratio. By comparison, 2012 MVP Chris Wondolowski had 127 shots but scored 27 goals to create a 21.3% shots to goals ratio.
Sporting names Claudio Bieler the 4th Designated Player in club history. The 28 year old Argentine has been playing in Ecuador for LDU Quito and has averaged a goal for every two games at Quito making him the leading goalscorer in team history. Honestly, I haven’t seen too much of Bieler and I don’t like to make judgments based solely on highlight videos I watch on YouTube. This being said, I would like to see him play a few games to see how he adjusts to life in America and playing in MLS but I like the possibilities he can potentially bring to the table.
What to expect in 2013
As you can see, we haven’t even entered 2013 and Sporting Kansas City has made a lot of moves. I haven’t even mentioned the possibility of a kit sponsor, that’s how busy Sporting has been this offseason. Sporting is making a big push for all four trophies this year and now is the time to win. Sporting will be new to the CONCACAF Champions League but the depth and added experience of Bieler and Feilhaber should help them in the hostile away games in the group stage. Obviously, Sporting are long shots to win Champions League, but winning the group stage should be a realistic goal and then who knows what can happen if Sporting gets into the knockout stages Without a doubt, Sporting will be going for the MLS Cup and Supporters Shield. The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is still important because it is still the easiest way to get into Champions League as well as providing some of the younger players with playing time and additional development.
Robb Heineman and everyone at Sporting Kansas City realize now that the 2013 season is the time to win. Since 2011 and after the brand name change, Sporting Kansas City was a team looking for respect. Whether it’s respect for the owners, supporters, players, staff or stadium, there’s no doubt Sporting appreciates that respect. At the same time however, they also realize that respect doesn’t put silverware in the trophy case. Last season’s US Open Cup title was a great start but I know not one person associated with that team is satisfied with winning just one trophy. It’s time to make winning trophies something that’s second nature, only to breathing, for Sporting Kansas City. This team can win titles and trophies for years to come.
(image courtesy of mlssoccer.com)