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Who Stays and Who Goes for Sporting KC?

Sporting Kansas City have fifteen players to make decisions on this Friday. Let’s look at each one and decide what we’d do.



Possibly the biggest decision looming is the future of Gadi Kinda. | Credit: Thad Bell

The deadline for clubs not still in the playoffs (we’re not bitter about this) to announce roster decisions is this Friday, December 1st. Sporting Kansas City will have to have their decisions into the league, and they may or may not sneak them into a Friday announcement to the rest of us.

With that in mind, it seemed like we should weigh in on the moves before they happen, so we can be judged for how right/wrong we were. I actually did this on my podcast back on October 17th, if you prefer to listen to that instead (and so did my co-host). Of course, the team was in a very different position at that point.

What are the Contract Situations?

The KC Soccer Journal covered this in detail back in August. Instead of rehashing every single player’s situation, check out that story. The only thing inaccurate in it is Alan Pulido has since signed a three-year extension and we’ve since learned Felipe Gutierrez’s 2023 salary (it’s $165,000), which may have no bearing on his 2024 number if he’s around.

A Look at Sporting KC’s Roster, Contracts and Salaries

16 players are under guaranteed deals for 2024 or beyond. We won’t be addressing those players. Instead, here are the players that need a decision.

Out of Contract: Cameron Duke, Gadi Kinda, Kendall McIntosh

2024 Option: Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, Johnny Russell, Remi Walter, Jake Davis, Kortne Ford, Felipe Gutierrez

2024/5 Options: Willy Agada, Robert Castellanos

2024/5/6 Options: Danny Flores, Chris Rindov

Peter Vermes can literally turn over half the roster with the stroke of a pen on Friday. That obviously won’t happen, and I think we are much more likely to see a mostly similar roster in 2024 than a massive overhaul. But there will be change, so let’s address it.

Gadi Kinda

This is one of the major dominos of the offseason yet to fall. Will Gadi Kinda return? He undoubtably has more than just soccer on his mind as he hails from Israel and played in their league before joining Sporting KC. The KC Star’s Daniel Sperry confirmed that the team is negotiating with Kinda who is out of contract.

I said it on the podcast, and I stand by wanting Kinda back. That said, if he moves on, there is a ready-made replacement in Erik Thommy. They don’t play exactly the same, but they play the exact same spot. They were rarely on the field at the same time, and it could be looked at as inefficient to have two Designated Players in the same position.

The thing is, he’s only a DP because of his transfer fee. His salary keeps him well under that threshold, but it’s likely he’d want a raise to return. The team was clearly better with him and Pulido in the fold, but I’m open to the argument that spending that money elsewhere could work too. We’ll likely know more very soon.

If Kinda comes back, I’d like it to be on a Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) deal and the team to retain the ability to spend an unlimited amount of money on a new DP.

Griezmann “Rumor” and other potential Mahomes Soccer nonsense

The Legends Part One – Espinoza

Decisions must be made on Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza. Both players have a 2024 option, and we don’t exactly know at what salary. Let’s assume they are at or near their current deals.

Roger Espinoza is on a league minimum deal. I know he’s 37-years-old (as is Zusi), but you pick up that option. He only played 720 minute this year, the lowest in his SKC career since 2009. Roger started seven games, all when the team was struggling with injuries at the beginning of the year. He looked done then, but he was an asset off the bench this year.

Espinoza delivered some lovely passes and helped close out some other games. Even if he doesn’t play a second of soccer in 2024, he’s a locker room glue guy. He makes this team better on and mostly off the field.

The Legends Part Two – Zusi

Graham Zusi makes $325,000. Because of injuries, he only played 867 league minutes this season, with just nine starts. Until subbing in for Davis in the Houston Dynamo playoff game, he hadn’t played since May 31st or started since May 20th. Most of that time off was due to injury, but a lot at the end was Davis playing so dang well.

Jake Davis should be the starter in 2024. Can you pay this much money to a guy that hasn’t stayed healthy the last couple seasons? $300k in MLS isn’t what it once was, but it’s a lot for a backup. He’s a legend and I want him to only play for Sporting KC. Maybe they bring him back. But I wouldn’t be stunned to see his option declined. Sheena brought up a good idea that they could decline it and sign him back at a lower deal. I’m 1000 percent for that! I’m not sure he’d want to do it, but he needs a proper farewell season and paying over $300k for that doesn’t make good business sense.

Johnny Russell

I love Johnny Russell. He’s currently my favorite player on Sporting KC. So, hear me out before you eviscerate me. He makes too much money for his production. He’s been hurt too much lately and often, even when he plays, he’s playing through injury and not quite himself. This team absolutely needs someone like that, but I’m not sure he should be an everyday starter anymore.

If not for scoring four times in the final three games of the season, which was critical, he’d have had a very down year.

In a perfect world, Sporting KC get one buyout per offseason, and they could use it on Khiry Shelton and give Russell that contract. At $625,000 instead of the $1 million he makes, he’s the first option off the bench every game at winger. The team could sign a DP winger in his place or if Kinda eats up that spot, they’d still have around $1 million to bring in a quality player.

So don’t kill me, but I’d decline his option and try to bring him back on a lower number. It would be super sad to not see Russell in an SKC jersey again.

Others Out of Contract

Cam Duke is gone. He hasn’t appeared in an MLS game since April 22nd against the New England Revolution. That’s the game Peter Vermes said he thought his team quit on him in the first half (though responded in the second). It was his lone start at right back before Jake Davis eventually took that spot. He’s only 22-years-old, so it’s wild to say he’s done, but he never gets on the field, wasn’t super impressive with SKC II this year and probably needs a change of scenery.

The other player straight out of contract is Kendall McIntosh. He’s the only third string keeper the team has kept for any extended period of time. He was replacement level when called upon this season and I could see him coming back with Tim Melia inching closer to retirement. John Pulskamp is the heir apparent, but it’s good to have a quality player to push him, or to sit on the bench while Pulskamp plays with the II’s waiting for Melia to retire.

No Brainer Options to Pick Up

Jake Davis, Remi Walter and Willy Agada will all be back. Davis is a promising star who Matt Doyle called a 10-year starter at right back. It’s wild to think he had barely played any right back and hadn’t done it at all in MLS until a few months into 2023. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an extension announced for him very soon.

Willy Agada is a fantastic option as a backup striker, and he could probably start on quite a few teams. He’ll hopefully play more now that he’s healthy and take some weight off Pulido’s shoulders. Seeing them play together would be nice too.

Remi Walter is an asset to this team. He’s capable of starting and playing basically every minute PV gives him. He is best as a number 8 and an adequate backup defensive midfielder. Every team needs a Remi Walter. And my wife would divorce me if I advocated cutting him. If Kinda comes back, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Kinda and Thommy together for more attacking options, but Remi does all the dirty work in the midfield and is still in his prime.

The Center Back Problem

At times, this teams center backs really struggled in 2023. Every single one of them made errors when they were out there. Sometimes game altering ones. Andreu Fontas, Dany Rosero and Robert Voloder are already guaranteed for 2024. It seems there needs to be new blood in the room. They have three players they can easily move on from: Castellanos, Rindov and/or Ford. And teams rarely keep six CBs and Ford being out all season means at least one guy is gone for next year.

Personally, I’m a Kortne Ford fan. He makes a very low salary and when healthy he’s a good player. He missed all of this season with a preseason Achilles injury. Ford looked like he was going to be the starter next to Fontas and his injury forced the Rosero signing. That could be a silver lining as Rosero was the team’s best CB. I’d like to see Ford back to give it one more chance to stay healthy.

That brings the roster to four CBs already. It’s possible the team could try to move on from someone like Voloder who is eating up a valuable U-22 spot and hasn’t contributed much since arriving. He’s not gotten many chances at his natural left CB spot, but that’s one way to clear a spot.

Otherwise, if you want to make another CB signing, you’d have to release both Castellanos and Rindov. Rindov was a draft pick who only played four MLS minutes, so you’d like to give him more time to develop. Castellanos played a lot more and was inconsistent. He seems to have a bond with Pulido and other guys in the locker room, so if they only keep one, I imagine that may help him. PV also trusted him in emergency situations above even Voloder.

Everyone Else

Felipe Gutierrez – It’s not clear what Guti is going to make next year but I suspect it’s not the low number he was on this season. This team is very old, and someone has to go. The 33-year-old Gutierrez is probably better than a lot of guys, but how will this team discover the next Jake Davis if guys are buried behind so many veterans. Bye Felipe.

Danny Flores – The team needs a certain number of low salary players. Flores only played six minutes in MLS (in the 4-1 Seattle loss while down a man), but played a lot in MLS Next Pro. He has promise and he played mostly defensive midfielder. If he can develop into a serviceable backup in the short-term, that’d be a win. He’s only 21, let’s see how he progresses in year two.

Stephen Afrifa – When he started against the Dynamo in the US Open Cup he showed great promise but missed his chances. The first-round pick didn’t even join the team immediately after the draft, so he’s never done a proper preseason. Right now, he’s the third striker but he needs significant minutes in MLS Next Pro next year.

The only way I don’t want to see him back is if Sporting are planning to sign Pau Vidal or Alenis Vargas to move to the first team (moves I think both could/should be made). MLS Next Pro has no rules, so if SKC decline his option, they should pay him the same salary to play for the II’s with the promise he can be moved back to the first team roster if he shows out like Vidal and Vargas did last season.

What We Learned from Sporting KC II in 2023

What do you all think? There are some hard cuts and tough decisions probably coming Friday from Sporting KC. I imagine even then, we’ll find out the team is still negotiating with some players, so these moves could linger through the offseason.

This also leaves out any buyouts, transfers, trades or other moves the team could be making. Tell us in the comments what you’d do.

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