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How Should Sporting KC Spend its Open DP Spot?

Sporting Kansas City have a Designated Player spot open for 2024. How should they spend it? Let’s look at the options.



Gadi Kinda wishing us farewell? | Credit: Thad Bell

The Major League Soccer offseason schedule has officially hit a lull. It’s the day after Christmas and there is nothing on the calendar officially until training camps start to open in early January (Sporting KC’s opens January 13th in Florida).

That doesn’t mean that Peter Vermes, Brian Bliss and others aren’t feverishly working in the background to build out the 2024 Sporting Kansas City roster. However, much of that roster build is already done. 26 of 30 roster spots are filled after the team announced the signing of left back Zorhan Bassong and forward Alenis Vargas.

A Look at Sporting KC’s Spending Flexibility this Offseason

Taking a look at Sporting KC’s roster flexibility will show that there isn’t a ton of money left, but there is room to make one really big splash. If you haven’t heard, it’s “extremely unlikely” that Gadi Kinda will be back on Sporting KC. That means SKC can spend an unlimited amount of money to add another Designated Player (DP).

What Position Should SKC Target?

The question then becomes, which roster spot is in need of the most help? Right after the season, Peter Vermes gave us a clue in what direction the team needed to head. He listed out specifically a goalkeeper with the departure of Kendall McIntosh, left back with Logan Ndenbe injured, center back, forward and “midfielders,” plural.

Since that quote, the team signed their new backup LB and added a forward. If we are taking that initial list of six players, then only “midfielders,” CB and GK haven’t been addressed. I think forward is probably still in play too.

Let’s quickly eliminate goalkeeper as a DP signing. It’s very rare in MLS. Tim Howard was once a DP and that mostly didn’t work out for the Colorado Rapids. Roman Burki was rumored to be a Designated Player for St. Louis City SC, but he isn’t listed that way. Plus, Sporting KC already have Tim Melia signed and John Pulskamp waiting in the wings. It’s possible first round SuperDraft pick, Ryan Schewe, will be signed and fill that third goalkeeper spot.

That leaves the other three lines all in play.

A DP Center Back?

For much of 2023, the center back position left a lot to be desired on Sporting KC. Despite that, the team already brought back the backup CBs they could have released (Chris Rindov and Robert Castellanos) and already had under contract their three highest paid CBs in Dany Rosero, Andreu Fontas and Robi Voloder. The only CB to have departed is Kortne Ford, and the team was said to be talking to him about a return.

Right there you already have five CBs with a sixth possible. I think there will surely be some movement at this position, because teams don’t often even carry six players at this spot.

As for spending a center back spot here, I just don’t see it happening. There is a short history of DP level CBs in MLS, and even they are hit or miss. The only way you can do this is if you have someone like a Walker Zimmerman who is consistently the Defensive Player of the Year, and even that hasn’t carried Nashville SC very far because they can’t score enough goals.

The Home and Away podcast put this best for me, a DP center back cannot stop enough goals to make this worth it compared to someone that can create/score goals. For that reason, I don’t see the lone available DP spot going to a CB.

We’ll save this for another time, but a move will be needed. Basically, the team has starter level guys in Fontas and Rosero and no one behind them that’s proven anything. You may be hoping Voloder takes a leap, or maybe Rindov steps forward in his sophomore season, but likely Castellanos is 3rd on the depth chart and he’s serviceable but not MLS starting caliber.

How about a Defensive Midfielder?

I’m only listing this one to knock it down quickly. While Nemanja Radoja had some health issues in 2023, playing only 1,719 leagues minutes over 25 appearances (21 starts), he’s the man. He is paid like a starter and the team simply can’t afford to tie up DP money and Radoja’s salary at one spot.

The team absolutely needs to find a capable backup d-mid though. Remi Walter belongs further up the field and leaves a lot to be desired when he’s asked to play d-mid. Danny Flores is on the bench and could take a step forward in his second season. Someone has to step up.

There are Only Two Options

When it comes to where a DP should be signed, as is often the case all around the league, it’s got to be players that score or contribute goals. With Sporting KC already having Alan Pulido locked up long-term at center forward, that leaves just two positions of potential need: midfielder or winger.

A Gadi Kinda Replacement?

When we say midfielder, I specifically lean towards one that fits the more “attacking” role. Sporting KC play with dual number 8, or box-to-box midfielders, but the left sided eight is more attacking usually. The team already has Remi Walter to play the right sided number eight spot and do all the dirty work and running. Right now, Erik Thommy occupies a Designated Player spot and plays the position that Kinda played.

There is definitely an argument to be made that having two DPs in one spot doesn’t make a ton of sense. However, it’s not like they couldn’t play together. And having someone like Kinda to replace Thommy or vice versa, gives the game a change of pace. Despite them playing the same spot, they played the position very differently.

Thommy led the team in assists (11) but he also played more than triple the minutes that Kinda played to get his four assists. Having someone that can pick out a pass in the midfield, and split lines, is big.

Right now, the starting midfield trio, if no signings are made, is certainly Thommy, Walter and Radoja. The depth behind them is all young guys — Felipe Hernandez, Danny Flores and Ozzie Cisneros. Felipe is much more like Remi and Ozzie has never played an MLS minute (though he’s been in the Open Cup before).

The team definitely needs to add someone in the midfield, but I’m not sure it’s going to be a DP. They could look for more youth, moving up someone like Ethan Bryant from SKC II.

Anything but Second: The Paradox and Potential of Ethan Bryant

A DP on the Wing?

This is tricky too. The team has two starting caliber wingers in Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell. While Salloi is signed long-term, Russell has just a single year left on his deal and has played through injuries a ton in the last two seasons.

Much like in the midfield, there is the potential lack of depth. You have a veteran in Khiry Shelton, who is far from a goal scoring threat and then two young guys in Marinos Tzionis and new signing Vargas. I’ve long held Tzionis was signed to be the left winger of the future, then Daniel Salloi re-signed on a long-term deal and Tzionis was left without minutes at his preferred spot.

Vargas, at only 20, could be the long-term answer at RW. However, that’s far from certain at this point. I think the answer to this question is signing someone who can take over for Russell. He’ll turn 34 in April, and he missed significant time in 2023. It could be a blip, or it could be father time catching up with him.

In my dream scenario, the team gets a RW that can be groomed behind Russell while shouldering some of the load. That eases the burden on Johnny and he can stick around longer, beyond 2024, with the money from the Khiry Shelton buyout (I said dream) and be a super sub for a year or two more.

What is the Verdict?

I think you probably can’t go wrong with a more attacking focused midfielder or a right winger. I do think there may be a world where a move isn’t made before the season. Vermes likes to get guys in for a full training camp, but players are more readily available in the summer transfer window than they are in the winter due to the calendar around the football/soccer world.

With the ability to spend unlimited money, the team really needs to get this move right. This will be a center piece signing for years to come and waiting to get the right player could be the right move. It’ll open up minutes for some young guys in the interim to prove to be the next Jake Davis and make a spot their own.

I lean towards the right wing because Thommy is only 29 and should have some years left while Russell is likely to be gone much sooner.

If the team signs one spot over the other, there is enough positional diversity to move guys around. Thommy can slide out to left wing. Pulido can too. Pulido can play in the midfield with Agada up top or side by side with Agada. Russell can even spend time in the midfield if a right winger is signed.

I’m less worried about this signing, even though it’s important to get it right, than I am about the lack of flexibility elsewhere. While a big move can be made, without some trades/transfers, there aren’t a lot of other impact signings that can be made. There just isn’t a ton of money because of the way MLS sets its roster rules. The Sporting KC roster you are looking at today, is likely very close to the one you’ll see on opening day.

What position do you want to see? Let us know in the comments.

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