Sporting Kansas City did not take long to make a move when the summer transfer window opened this week. Former Sporting KC midfielder Felipe Gutierrez has returned. Gutierrez and SKC agreed to a contract through the rest of 2023 with an option for 2024.
Gutierrez was a Designated Player with Sporting KC from 2018 through 2020 although he missed the full 2020 season after knee surgery side-lined him. With Sporting KC, he scored 19 goals with nine assists in 63 matches across all competitions. Gutierrez and Sporting KC were unable to agree on a contract for 2021 so the Chilean midfielder returned Chile where he rejoined Universidad Catolica, his first professional club.
In 2022 he briefly returned to MLS as a summer transfer with the Colorado Rapids before going to Al-Wasl FC in the UAE Pro League. Gutierrez and Al-Wasl agreed to part ways so he could return to Kansas City.
“It was an easy decision to come back to the team,” Gutierrez told media. “I’ve been talking to Peter a long time with a chance to come here because when I was here it was a joy to play, the way we play and how we play. I want to feel that feeling again. That’s why we made the decision to come back. My family was also happy here when we were here.”
In order to make room for Gutierrez, Sporting KC placed defender Kortne Ford on the Season-Ending Injury List. This move opened a roster spot and budget space equivalent to Ford’s salary.
“Well, obviously we had a choice to make regarding the season-ending injury with Kortne,” SKC Manager Peter Vermes explained to media. “With that and then also making sure you get somebody who can at least contribute in some way. It really made a lot of sense, based on the fact that he’s been here before, he knows what we do and, in my opinion, he probably can play seven positions on the field. So, with that, I think it was an easy decision.”
“He was always an incredible competitor, he’s got a winning mentality, which is a great addition as well and that will help the group,” Vermes added.
“I never wanted him to leave in the first place. It was all centered around his injury and so the good thing is, you know, we did maintain a good relationship and we also communicated a couple times,” Vermes stated. “When he went to Colorado last year, we were actually talking prior to that as well. And so this is a good timing, works out for both parties and I’m glad that he’s here.”
Vermes was asked if he would be expected to appear in all seven positions. “Possibly, if we need it because he can do it. He can play left back, he can play either of the three guys in the midfield or any three of the front. If you play false-nine, he can do all those things and he can do it from a technical perspective and then also mentality-wise as well. He’ll compete in all of positions.”
Ready to play!
With Al-Wasl Gutierrez played 759 minutes across nine games with a goal and an assist in league play and three more matches with a goal in their Cup competition. His last match was in May so may need to work towards a greater fitness.
Regardless of fitness, Gutierrez is ready to play. He has already let Vermes know multiple times that he is ready. “He wants to play. He wants to be with the team this weekend, but I’m not ready to do that,” Vermes stated. “I would say from Wednesday on there’s a possibility that he could start getting into the (gameday) 20 possibly and maybe getting a few minutes here or there. I want to make sure that there’s a level of fitness there that can stand whenever we’re going to play him.”
“He’s couple years older but I’m not also looking for him to be 90 minutes, “Vermes elaborated. “I need him for situations like this, where we have three games in a week, where there’s going to be a big push at the end of the season. We’re going to need him there so it’ll just be great places for him to pop in and give the team, whether it’s, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 maybe even 60 at a point.”
It will remain to be seen how much time Gutierrez plays and how much impact he will make when he does step on the field. At his best in 2018-19, Gutierrez was one of the more dynamic players in the league and filled several roles for SKC. As Vermes said, he can play any of the midfield spots or even on the front line. True for any older player under Vermes, he has to be ready to play an outside back spot as well.
While fans would understandably want to see a younger player brought in during this window, it is a low-cost, low-risk with the potential for a high-reward move. With Sporting KC oscillating between playing really well and shooting for the bottom of the table, an experienced Gutierrez may be just the help Vermes and his men need.
Late in a game when Sporting KC needs a little offense, Vermes will have an option. Now when he looks down the bench, he sees a goalie, a center-back, an aging midfielder with lots of bite but not a lot of offense, and a forward with low confidence. Gutierrez will give a veteran option that can create, score and fill a few spots in a pinch.