With the players set to report to preseason on January 13th, Sporting Kansas City are getting closer and closer to their ‘final’ roster for the 2024 MLS Season. Head coach and sporting director, Peter Vermes, is a big fan of having his roster built and giving players a full preseason. With that in mind, and the holiday lull hopefully behind us, moves should start happening very soon.
As things stand, Sporting KC only have four open roster spots on their 30-man roster, but they can bring far more players to preseason. They will almost certainly bring their three unsigned MLS SuperDraft picks, portions of, if not the entire, SKC II roster, players from the Sporting KC Academy and, of course, the 26 players signed to the first team outside of maybe the injured Logan Ndenbe.
Where Does the Roster Stand?
If you haven’t already, I recommend taking a look at our “way too early” depth chart for an idea where each position stands.
When you look across the position groups, there are several positions that need to be addressed. And we’ll get to that in a moment. But it’s worth remembering how Sporting KC can spend that money.
The team has one open Designated Player spot, where they can spend an unlimited amount of money on transfer fees and salary, due to the departure of Gadi Kinda. We’ve already looked at potential ways to spend that money. Beyond that DP spot, there is some gray area. The team is “out” of international roster spots, but likely have a slew of green cards on the horizon which will change that calculus. Despite that, they likely don’t have a ton of room to make multiple big signings outside of the DP spot.
Drew, host of the Home and Away Podcast, did a nice guest post for the KC Soccer Journal that breaks down what other flexibility may exist that I recommend you check out. Due to the lack of transparency in MLS, it’s hard to know 100 percent how much money is available, but this will likely get us within a few hundred thousand dollars.
A Couple Midfielders
There are only six midfielders on the roster for three starting spots and the departure of Gadi Kinda, Roger Espinoza and Felipe Gutierrez has left the position thin and very youthful beyond the starters. Currently, it’s likely to be a starting trio of Erik Thommy, Remi Walter and Nemanja Radoja.
The depth of the squad comes from Felipe Hernandez, Danny Flores and Ozzie Cisneros. In 2023 this group played a combined 322 league minutes. Of that, Hernandez played 316 and Flores had the rest. With Flores being a rookie, those are his only six MLS minutes and Cisneros has yet to play an MLS minute in four seasons with the club. Hernandez has 3,370 career minutes in MLS, with over half of them coming in 2022 (1,774). Beyond Hernandez, it’s a big set of question marks.
The team may realistically need to add two midfielders having lost three in the offseason. But if they only add one, assuming Ozzie Cisneros isn’t ready to make a huge leap, they need a backup for Thommy. Erik seems good for about 70 hard minutes a match, but the team needs attacking depth. It’s possible this is where they use their open Designated Player spot. I think it’ll go elsewhere, but I won’t rule it out.
The team also needs a better backup for Nemanja Radoja at defensive midfielder. Flores may be ready to take a leap, as he spent a lot of time there with SKC II in 2023. Right now, it’s Walter as the primary backup and then that would push Hernandez into being a starter. He’s been capable in the past, but last year he barely played.
With only four open roster spots and needs elsewhere, the team may only be able to sign one midfielder, but I think some other dominos will fall.
I’ve already dedicated 1,600+ words to where the team should spend another DP spot. I suggested a long-term replacement for Johnny Russell, and I stand by that. Maybe Alenis Vargas is that guy, but it’s too early to know. Regardless, the team could use another attacking option on the wing because after Russell and Daniel Salloi, you move to a defensive winger in Khiry Shelton or inexperienced youth in Vargas and Marinos Tzionis.
Ideally the new signing could play on either wing, but if he can only do one thing, let’s make it right wing.
Weirdly, even though I want a DP here, I could see this position being skipped entirely due to needs elsewhere. In the offseason press conference, Vermes mentioned needing to add a left back, third string keeper, attacker, center back and midfielders — plural. They’ve already hit LB and attacker. Maybe Vargas is it.
As things stand, the team has the same five center backs they ended 2023 with: Andreu Fontas, Dany Rosero, Robert Castellanos, Robert Voloder and Chris Rindov. Kortne Ford was on the season ending injury list at the time and he’s since had his option declined and there has been no update on the ongoing negotiations between him and the team.
Looking at the position group shows it’s in need of an upgrade. The team allowed 51 goals in 2023, worst among all the playoff teams in Western Conference, and only better than Atlanta United and Charlotte FC out East.
As it stands, Fontas and Rosero are starters. It seems most fans are fine with Rosero, but Fontas is a divisive figure. Down the stretch, he played his best soccer. However, he had an up and down 2023 at best.
Beyond the starters are three unproven backups. Voloder led the next three guys in minutes, with 1,028 in MLS, but many of those came out of position at left back in desperate times. Castellanos set a career high with 700 minutes. He is in the 97th percentile in clearances and 96th percentile in aerials won, but lags behind his peers in nearly all other metrics. And Rindov is an unknown who had a cup of coffee in MLS last year (four minutes of play).
Either Sporting KC are hoping for a big leap from Voloder or Rindov, or they need to add a more convincing third rotational piece. Many fans want the team to spend a DP spot here, which historically is bad business in MLS. I’m against this, but something has to be done.
Teams also don’t carry six center backs typically, so an addition likely means a subtraction as well. If they could bring back Ford, I’d feel better. And with the limited money they have to spend, that might be all they can afford.
Third String Goalkeeper
The team technically will fill one of their four roster spots with a third string goalkeeper. From listening to Brian Bliss talk, first round pick Ryan Schewe out of Georgetown would seem to have a good shot to earn that spot. Whether it’s Schewe or someone else, expect them to be on the supplemental roster and making at or near the league minimum.
It won’t happen, but LAFC signing Hugo Lloris to wildly low contract probably makes Maxime Crepeau available. For my money, the 29-year-old Canadian is one of the best keepers in the league, but Sporting KC have a lot tied up in Tim Melia, so let’s not get our hopes up (Update: Since writing this, rumors are he’s joining the Portland Timbers).
Prepare for Disappointment
Looking at this list of needs, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility the team adds a third string keeper and another midfielder and then holds tight. They don’t want to reach and make a DP signing they’ll regret for years, so Vermes is smart enough to wait. Even if that means waiting until summer to get the right deal. Until recently, that wasn’t a thing for Kansas City. But they so thoroughly nailed the Willy Agada and Erik Thommy signings, I could see them going that route again.
It’s wild how similar this year’s roster is to last years. The team subtracted several guys, including two club legends in Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza, but they’ve only made two moves so far. Despite that, the roster is nearly full. Maybe there will be surprise trades or transfers, but this may be the nearly complete roster we are looking at.
Preseason starts this Saturday when players report to KC before heading to Coral Gables, Florida on Sunday.