Unfortunately for Sporting Kansas City fans, the MLS offseason is upon us. The use of the word unfortunately is not because the offseason isn’t fun, everyone is undefeated again, it’s because it’d be nice to see them playing in MLS Cup on Saturday. And if they’d played a little better and the VAR understood the rules better in Houston, maybe they’d still be playing.
But it’s time to put that behind us. There is no getting a second chance in that game. It’s on to 2024 and that season is just around the corner. The teams playing in the CONCACAF Champions Cup are starting preseason in early January, and Sporting KC won’t be too far behind them. The 2023 season started before February was over and it’s plausible that’ll be the case again in 2024.
While some of that scheduling is unknown, the offseason is about to kick into high gear next week. Sporting KC already announced the first wave of offseason roster moves, including declining the contract options of club legends Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza. More moves are coming soon.
Here is a breakdown of the known dates for the Major League Soccer (MLS) offseason schedule.
MLS College Showcase – December 6th-9th
This closed-door event is already underway in Phoenix, Arizona. In prior years, some of these games would stream on YouTube or the league site, but with it overlapping MLS Cup, the attention is elsewhere. One change that has impacted this event is a rule change allowing college sophomores and juniors to declare for the draft.
Promising former Sporting KC II and former Academy player Tucker Lepley is on the list of the 44 invitees. He would make for an interesting Homegrown signing. The UCLA player is listed as a midfielder, and he did play on the wing some with SKC II. I don’t watch college soccer, so I can’t speak to where he’s lined up or what system they play, but I liked Tucker when he was in KC.
— Mike (@downthebyline) December 5, 2023
Trade Window Opens – Dec. 11th @ 8:00 AM CT
The roster freeze will come to an end with the opening of a trade window. Sporting KC currently have 24 of their 30 roster spots filled, but it’s always possible they could move players via trade, transfer or by simply cutting them.
There is obviously work to be done on the roster and that should be starting as soon as this trade window.
Waivers – Dec. 12th @ 4:00 PM CT
This was previously called the “Waiver Draft.” The End-of-Year Waiver process goes in reverse order of the regular season standings, factoring in playoff performance. Sporting KC were in the final eight teams, so they’ll find themselves pretty far down on the list.
Not a lot of players are eligible for waivers in MLS. These are typically players who are either too young or have too little league experience to go through another acquisition mechanism. The list of players will be released on the 12th, and this is for players who didn’t have options exercised, but aren’t subject to the first right of refusal, the re-entry draft or free agency. More on those below.
Free Agency Begins – Dec 13th @ 12:00 PM CT
Teams aren’t allowed to re-sign their own players at this point, but instead can do that prior to the beginning of Stage Two of the Re-Entry Draft (more below).
For a player to be eligible for free agency they must be at least 24 years old and have at least five years of service. As with all things MLS, it’s more complicated than it should be. Here are the full rules.
Re-Entry Draft (Stage One) – Dec. 14th @ 12:00 PM CT
Following the same reserve order as waivers above, this process includes players who are at least 22 years old, have a minimum of one service year but aren’t eligible for free agency. Players who are out of contract by have received a Bonafide offer from their team, aren’t eligible for the Re-Entry draft.
In Sporting KC terms, that would include Gadi Kinda. While he’s old enough to be a free agent, he only has four years of league service. That said, he’s a ‘free agent’ for the rest of the world that literally could have signed him since about six months ago to a pre-contract. So, he’s just not a ‘free agent’ in MLS terms.
2024 MLS SuperDraft – Dec. 19th @ 2:00 PM CT
The draft doesn’t mean nearly as much in MLS as in other leagues. Though gems can still be found. Look no further than 22-year-old Duncan McGuire who was selected 6th overall in last year’s draft (two spots ahead of Stephen Afrifa to SKC) and went on to score 13 goals.
Sporting KC, by way of their playoff run, hold the 22nd pick in the first three rounds of the draft. There is no longer a fourth round. For a complete history of Sporting KC in the draft, we’ve got you covered.
Re-Entry Process (Stage Two) – Dec 21st @ 12:00 PM CT
It’s the same order as stage one and includes any non-selected players from that draft minus any players who opt out of this process. Players can opt out from stage one as well.
There is one main difference between stage one and stage two. In stage one teams that draft a player that had option years, immediately trigger that option. If they didn’t have options years left, they must make a Bonafide offer, which is a $15,000 or 10 percent increase on the prior year’s salary. Also, teams cannot pick their own players in stage one.
In stage two, they just must make a “genuine offer,” aka, they can pay them less. Sporting KC has a propensity to draft their own players here to retain their rights. They did it last year with Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and back at the end of 2020 with Felipe Gutierrez. For those two players, they were simply trying to bring them back on lower salaries. There are no obvious candidates for such a move this year that SKC declined options on.
There is still a lot of the offseason schedule that is unknown. We don’t yet know when preseason will start, when the regular season schedule will be released or even when the new secondary jersey will be announced.
However, possibly the most exciting part is the signing of outside, foreign transfers. That can basically happen at any point, all the way up to the end of the first transfer window which is well into the 2024 season. SKC have just five of their eight international slots filled, and they could have more green cards waiting to be announced before the roster compliance deadline the Friday before the season starts.
Stick with the KC Soccer Journal who will bring you coverage of all the offseason happenings for Sporting KC.