It’s been a weird offseason for Sporting Kansas City. The team moved on from two legends in Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza. They’ve only signed two depth players over the last two months. And then there was the Wilkinson saga.
But there haven’t really been any rumors. Until now. Tom Bogert of The Athletic is reporting that LAFC midfielder Kellyn Acosta “has been heavily pursued by several clubs this winter.” Of the teams listed, the Chicago Fire are listed as the most intense, but “Sporting KC remains in the mix, as do the Colorado Rapids.”
🕵🏻♂️ Latest I'm hearing around MLS
🇺🇸 Kellyn Acosta chase
🇲🇽 Carlos Vela latest
🇺🇸 Ale Bedoya "very close" to Philly return, but nothing finalized or signed
➕ 5 MLS players to watch ahead of Jan. transfer window closehttps://t.co/oXo6Rlc6Ds
— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) January 22, 2024
[You should subscribe to The Athletic if you can. Every meaningful piece of information around MLS (and in some cases many other leagues), seems to come from The Athletic. But I digress.]
More on Acosta
Most US fans are probably familiar with Acosta. He’s been around MLS and the USMNT for many years. He’s played for FC Dallas, the Rapids and most recently LAFC. He helped LA win an MLS Cup title two seasons ago and return to the finals last year. He’s been next to Ilie Sanchez the last couple seasons and has been a huge complement to the way Ilie plays.
His career stats don’t jump off the page with just 18 goals and 19 assists in his 11 MLS seasons, but he’s often deeper in the midfield. He’ll be 29 this July and he’s still on the fringe of the United States Men’s National Team setup.
Acosta’s Fit with Sporting KC
It sounds like the Chicago Fire are the frontrunners, but Acosta is an interesting target for Sporting KC. It begs the question, where does he fit in? Looking at his underlying numbers and they look really bad. However, I think that can be a bit misleading. Where he plays in the midfield, he’s not always going to show up statistically.
With the Acosta rumor being reported by Tom Bogert, it's worth a look at his underlying numbers. They aren't great, but where he plays may not always show up in the numbers.
— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) January 22, 2024
The passing numbers do concern me a bit, because Sporting KC is known to build out of the back. But Acosta screams ‘destroyer’ in the vein of Roger Espinoza. It’s something this midfield hasn’t had for years since Espinoza has slowly lost a step in recent seasons.
Acosta also is a fantastic set piece taker. He would immediately be first on the depth chart if he’s on the field to take corners and any free kicks from distance.
I think his lack of attacking numbers mean he wouldn’t really ever be a replacement for Erik Thommy. However, he can definitely be a change of pace for Remi Walter since they play the same spot but play it much differently. And Acosta would immediately be a better backup for Nemanja Radoja. I could even see a world where it’s a trio of Acosta, Walter and Radoja, but that definitely lacks an attacking bite.
The question then becomes, is he good enough to be a starter over any of the guys Sporting KC currently have? And I think potentially the answer is ‘yes,’ but it’s not blatantly obvious. However, he would definitely make the midfield better even if he’s the first guy off the bench. Much better.
But then it becomes a money problem.
In 2023, Kellyn Acosta made $1.25 million in base salary with LAFC and $1.365 million in guaranteed compensation. That falls firmly below the Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) threshold and would not make Acosta a Designated Player. The question becomes, is he looking for a raise? He’s played well for the last two years on an elite MLS team.
At 28, this might be his last chance for a big pay day. Sporting KC have the roster flexibility to sign Acosta, but if they do, almost certainly they won’t be able to add another Designated Player based on their current budget outlay.
Would it be worth it to give up the ability to spend an unlimited amount of money on an elite player? I’m not sure it is. And there is no saying Acosta would get a raise to DP, but Sporting KC seemingly don’t have enough TAM and GAM (General Allocation Money) in their coffers to sign Acosta at or near his current rate and add a DP.
Perhaps this move is with an eye to 2025. Walter is out of contract after the season and the team can also move on from Thommy, who just has an option for 2025. But it would hamstring them this year on making a huge signing.
I think Acosta may be a better starter today than Remi Walter, but unless they offload some salary elsewhere, doing Acosta as a DP or in lieu of a DP, doesn’t make sense. Looking at Sporting KC’s salaries for 2023, they’d have to buy out or trade a significant contract to make room.
An obvious buy out candidate is Khiry Shelton ($625,000), but Peter Vermes seems to love him. Every other guy at or near that salary is a starter, outside of Marinos Tzionis ($625,000). But it should be noted Tzionis is a U-22 player and hits the book at a much lower cap charge.
What Makes Sense for Acosta?
I think Sporting KC isn’t the most illogical landing spot. It’s a team with a strong culture that fought back after a tough season to be contenders last year. As opposed to the other two listed teams, the Rapids and Fire. They are both a mess and some of the worst teams in the league in the last few years. Plus, the Colorado Rapids are already in a bad place with Acosta for refusing to sell him overseas the last time he was on their team, to his dismay. He may not want to play there, even though I think that may be his best fit with how they’ve remade that team.
Also, there are clear paths to being a starter for Chicago and Colorado when it would be a fight in KC. If he’s trying to play his way into the USMNT roster, he needs to be playing. It seems in Kansas City he’d be in a four-man rotation. Since Chicago and Colorado have been so bad, he’s probably a write it in pen starter.
The KC Soccer Journal will bring you more on the Acosta rumor and all things Sporting KC in the coming days and weeks.