With the season over, most Sporting Kansas City fans have turned their eyes towards 2017 and the hopes of another new season. With that in mind people have been discussing who should be, or will be returning in 2017 and what players are likely on their way out. Yesterday from Sam McDowell we found out that Sporting KC has just eight players currently under contract for the 2017 season. Of the 23 remaining players that KC has (including their three players that were on loan this season; Bernardo Anor, Erik Palmer-Brown, and Daniel Salloi) there are likely to be a few of those players that are brought back, either because they have options the team is going to pick up, or because the team will extend the player a new deal.
So with that in mind here's a look at each player and some thoughts on their 2016 season, their chances on returning, and some ideas on what Swope Park Rangers players could play a role.
Tim Melia - He struggled during the middle of the 2016 season, with injuries and form affecting his play on the field, but came on strong late in the season, looking like the goalkeeper that he'd been in 2015. He's one of the seven under contract for 2017 and I think it's safe to assume that he's definitely coming in as the number one goalkeeper again.
Alec Kann - Performed admirably in Melia's stead when he was out with injury. He's not a bad back up and as long as the price remains right I think Kann will be back in Kansas City next season as the backup.
Jon Kempin - Probably the most interesting situation to follow with the goalkeepers. Kempin is Sporting KC's first homegrown player, but has appeared in only a handful of games for Sporting KC. This season he made just two appearances, both in the CONCACAF Champions League while Melia was injured. He spent most of the season on loan to the Swope Park Rangers, where he started the season as the starter, lost the job, gained it back, then lost it again when he was recalled to help cover for the Melia injury and never gained it back.
Outlook: I think it might be time for Kempin to move on from his home town club. The tweet by Robb Heineman back in January that the club wanted to take goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, the losing the starting job with the Rangers to Zac Lubin and then Adrian Zendejas, it just seems that the club is starting to move on from Kempin. In his place I could see the club doing something similar in 2017 with Zendejas, signing him to Sporting KC and loaning him to SPR for the season.
Help from SPR: As I mentioned before, Zendejas looked extremely solid for the Rangers and at only 21 looks like an extremely strong option to grow into the position. Him being invited into preseason camp with Sporting won't be surprising at all.
Stay: Melia, Kann
Saad Abdul-Salaam - Abdul-Salaam is one of those players that I believe falls into the option needing to be picked up category. Traditionally MLS rookies are given a two year deal when they sign, two years plus two more option years. Abdul-Salaam just finished his second season, which would put him firmly into the position of entering one of his option years. He seems to have firmly entrenched himself into the starting right back job as Chance Myers has been unable to stay healthy.
Ever Alvarado - One of Sporting KC's mid-season signings, Alvarado spent most of his time with the Swope Park Rangers. Plenty of that probably had to do with the emergence of Jimmy Medranda as a viable player at left back for Sporting KC. The Honduran isn't one I would consider a "young, up and comer" as he is already 24. I could see him brought back as depth for KC; I could also see him make his exit from Kansas City as well.
Matt Besler - The second of two players under contract already for 2017, Besler had a rough 2016 season on the field for KC. He played his fewest games since his second professional season through both injury and being benched by Peter Vermes, was stripped of the captain's armband he had first been given in 2014, and lost the designation as being a designated player. He's still the best defender KC has, but has been unable to form a cohesive partnership with anyone the way that he had with Aurelien Collin.
Nuno Coelho - The man that was originally expected to help fill that Aurelien Collin role with Besler was the Coelho. Unfortunately, after a strong start, Coelho's history of injuries caught up with him around May. After going 90 minutes in KC's 3-1 loss to RSL on May 21st (his 14th straight start, and 14th straight game going 90 minutes), Coelho only played 90 minutes one time over the final 20 games of the regular season. He started six of those final 20 games and made one substitute appearance. Making $275,000 base and $375,000 guaranteed you have to wonder if there was enough to get him another year in Kansas City. For me I'm not sure he did.
Kevin Ellis - After all was said and done at the end of the season, after KC tried Besler, Coelho, Ike Opara, and Lawrence Olum at center back, it ended up being Ellis that partnered Besler at the end of the season for KC. While he still draws the ire of a number of KC fans that he's not a center back, he's still a good depth option for KC at his price. If he's one that has an option to pick up I would guess there's a good chance it's picked up.
Jimmy Medranda - Probably the biggest surprise of the season for Sporting KC, Medranda made the left back position his for a good chunk of the season holding off Alvarado, Seth Sinovic, and making Amadou Dia expendable. He's certainly not a finished product there and some of his defending would best be classified as erratic and a little worrisome, he still got the job done. As McDowell mentioned, the team sees his eventual position further of the field, and I'd agree, I'm not sure exactly where, but I think he has more to provide to the offense than he does as a defender.
Chance Myers - sporting KC's longest tenured player may be seeing his time in KC coming to an end soon. Myers was hit by the injury bug again in 2016, something that has been an on again off again issue for him throughout his career. He played in just 11 league games, starting just six. His last start came back on May 7th, while his last appearance was on August 7th. He's been very good for the club when he's been healthy, his spot in the great back line from 2011 through 2013 will be remembered very well by KC fans, but with a base salary of $200,000 and Abdul-Salaam looking good in the right back position it may be time for KC to move on from Myers.
Ike Opara - Set a career high for starts (16), games (25), and minutes (1,542) in 2016, Opara was not as dominating as he was in the early part of 2015 before his injury but was still strong defensively. He too missed time again with injury though not as bad as prior years. His salary is still pretty reasonable in MLS and at worst he's a good third defender for the club to have.
Erik Palmer-Brown - Sporting KC's youngest ever player is on loan to Porto until the end of the season, when the Portuguese club will make a decision on whether they will purchase Palmer-Brown's contract. The US youth international was an important part of Porto B's run to winning the Portuguese second division championship last season. This season after returning from an injury he's gone right back into the starting 11 for Porto B and done well. From reports of people who have been watching him play he has been doing very well and most fans seem very interested in retaining his duties with the club, some even saying that they wouldn't be surprised to see him get time with the first team in the Portuguese Cup competition. In that regard I'm not going to be surprised if he's played his last game for Sporting KC.
Seth Sinovic - I think each of the last two seasons I've written Seth Sinovic's obituary with Sporting KC, first the emergence of Dia and then Medranda this season, but yet again by the end of the season this year Sinovic was back in the starting 11, replacing Medranda over the final few league games and then in the playoffs as well. Sinovic is still a relatively inexpensive option for Kansas City and even if KC chooses to bring in another starter, Sinovic would be a good veteran presence on the bench that can come in and start when you need him to.
Outlook: For some of the comments that Kansas City took about their defense in 2016, it was still a fairly good defensive unit, allowing the sixth fewest goals on the season in MLS. The big issue was simply consistency in personnel. Abdul-Salaam seems to have the right back; with Besler out of the dog house he seems to have the left center back position. That means that KC needs to look to fill the right center back position, and either decide on Medranda or Sinovic for the left back spot, or bring in a starter there.
Help from SPR: Swope Park's starting center back partnership of Omuar Ballo and Amer Didic had a long unbeaten run for SPR when they were starting together that was ended in the USL final against New York Red Bulls 2. The pair certainly looked strong at times and Didic at 21 even earned himself a call up to Sporting for the CCL games this season, which Ballo was too old for. I could see at least Didic, if not both of them invited into camp. On the wings, I think that Sporting will give Tyler Pasher another look with Sporting in preseason, he seems likely to split time between the wing and wingback position with SKC, something he did with the Rangers at times last season.
Stay: Abdul-Salaam, Besler, Ellis, Medranda, Opara, Sinovic
Go: Alvarado, Coelho, Myers, Palmer-Brown
In: starting right center back, starting left back, Didic?, Pasher?
Bernardo Anor - Spent the entire season on loan with Minnesota United of the NASL. The assumption had to have been that Anor would impress enough that KC could work out a deal where Sporting would trade Anor to Minnesota in exchange for a draft pick and a handshake agreement to not take any of their players in the expansion draft. Unfortunately Anor only appeared nine times for United, only two of those in the fall season after suffering an injury. If this was a loan with an option to buy I have a feel that United will pass on Anor, and I can't see KC retaining him either.
Emmanuel Appiah - Like Alvarado, Appiah was KC's other summer transfer window signing, and like him he spent a vast majority of his time with SPR, making a handful of appearances across all competitions for Sporting KC, mainly in CCL play. I could see Appiah making a return to the team in preseason only to end up signing with SPR for 2017 instead of Sporting. As a 23 year old first round pick (albeit for Colorado) I would have wanted more of a contribution from him.
Roger Espinoza - The third of seven players already under contract for the 2017 season, Espinoza had himself another strong season for KC in midfield and on the wing by the end of the season. He took over the captaincy from Besler and set career highs in games (30), starts (30), minutes (2,679), and assists (5). While KC had some success late in the season with Espinoza on the wing I appreciate that the team is planning to move him back to the midfield, on the wing I just didn't feel that Espinoza had the impact on the game that he can have in the middle, and while he's a good player, he's not enough of an offensive weapon to be playing the wing regularly in a 4-3-3.
Benny Feilhaber - Probably the biggest story of Kansas City’s offseason will be the status of Feilhaber. Now out of contract, Sporting has not held any negotiations with him about a new contract during the regular season. With numerous reports that teams in both Israel and Mexico were interested in the midfielder he can technically sign an offer sheet with a new club at any time, even though his contract with KC runs through the end of December. The fact that he hasn't is certainly a good sign. There are questions that will be asked though if and when Feilhaber signs a new contract. The biggest being how long of a contract do you give a midfielder who will be 32 at the start of the 2017 season? Can he continue to keep up the impact he's had with KC over the past couple seasons?
Benji Joya - The former US youth international came back to MLS as a roster freeze signing for Kansas City. Joya only appeared one time for Kansas City, the club's meaningless CCL game against Central FC, but he showed flashes during that one appearance. He's cheap enough to be an option on Sporting KC next season, or with SPR. He's one of the few roster freeze deadline signings that I could see sticking around beyond the one season.
Soni Mustivar - Another player already under contract for 2017, Mustivar had a bit of a rough season. KC had been searching for a defensive midfielder to replace Oriol Rosell since the Spaniard transferred to the Portuguese league, and last year it looked like they might have found it with Mustivar. This year though there's been some issues with his passing. It seems like at least once a game Mustivar would play a ball that would end up putting KC's defense under pressure, either by it being to the other team or not to a good position. In KC's 4-3-3 the passing by the defensive midfield is extremely important; it's why Feilhaber has spent plenty of time there. Hopefully an improvement from Mustivar is coming in 2017.
Paulo Nagamura - It seems like the last few years Nagamura has missed the first half of the season only to come back in late July/August to help steady the team and push them towards the playoffs. This year was no different, but the question surrounding Nagamura is that he turns 34 early in 2017 and can KC afford to have $225,000 in cap space tied up in a player (no matter how important) only plays about 500 minutes in a season?
Lawrence Olum - After a year abroad, Olum returned to Kansas City and for a period of time over the summer became the preferred starting center back partner of Ike Opara in KC's back line. Like a number of KC's new signings this past season though he missed a long stretch of time with injury, not appearing in a league game after 8/13. He will also be turning 33 next season, an age where if he permanently makes the switch to center back could be a decent depth signing if KC want him to return.
Outlook: When KC's starting midfield trio of Espinoza, Feilhaber, Mustivar were on their game they were one of the best midfield combinations in the league. Unfortunately they all couldn't seem to hit form at the same time in 2016. This is an area in 2017 that KC really probably needs to get younger in, both Feilhaber (if he stays) and Espinoza are now on the wrong side of 30, Olum and Nagamura are also both north of there. While Mustivar is in his prime now there are certainly questions about his play. The only "young" players in the midfield are Appiah and Joya, both had minimal action, but Joya looked the better of the two when it came down to it.
Help from SPR: Unfortunately, probably the two top candidates to help out on the midfield tore their ACLs in training in 2016. Kevin Oliveira, number 2 on the USL's list of 20 under 20 is back out on the field getting himself back into shape, but Ualefi only tore his ACL during the USL playoffs and is still a ways out. If either or both were healthy I would have expected both in camp with KC, now Oliveira may be back by the time the USL season kicks off. Elsewhere, Ayrton showed flashes filling in for Oliveira at the attacking midfield spot and Tomas Granitto showed well in his one appearance with SKC in the Champions League, but I'm not sure either one is ready to make the jump full time.
Stay: Espinoza, Feilhaber, Joya, Mustivar, Olum
Go: Anor, Appiah, Nagamura
In: Fausto Rossi?, other starting attacking midfielder if Feilhaber leaves, potentially a new defensive midfielder
Brad Davis - Probably the highest profile of KC's offseason acquisitions, a player that Peter Vermes had reportedly been chasing for years. Unfortunately Davis ended up starting just 14 games, the fewest since his rookie year in 2002, same for the number of minutes played (1,300), and his fewest assists since 2004. The expectation was that Davis would provide close to double digit assists, setting up goals for other players on the field. The lack of production from Davis caused some of KC's offensive attacking issues. His retirement will free up plenty of cap space though so hopefully Kansas City uses that on improving the team.
Dom Dwyer - The fourth player still under contract for 2017, Dwyer became Sporting KC's second all-time leading scorer in 2016 and seems likely to continue to closer to Preki in 2017. For Kansas City, the best thing for Dwyer would be for Sporting to get him support. Dwyer spent a lot of 2016 on "Dwyer Island" isolated from the rest of Kansas City's team; getting him support has to be a priority.
Connor Hallisey - To say that Sporting's highest pick from the 2015 MLS Superdraft has not lived up to expectations would be an understatement. Hallisey has struggled to transition his game to MLS. He's had numerous opportunities to lock down a starting spot on the wing for KC, especially this year with KC's two big signings there being underwhelming. In his 30 games played for KC in MLS play he's recorded just a single assist while having a number of decent opportunities to score but his only finish has been a penalty kick in KC's final CCL game. There comes a point where Vermes needs to just cut his losses with Hallisey.
Justin Mapp - The league's first free agent signing will also be the measuring point for free agent busts for years to come in MLS. Mapp played just 43 minutes for Kansas City, never starting a single game. He missed most of the season with a variety of injuries. If KC takes anything from this mistake it's to hopefully be more cautious with their signings. KC has made a history of signing players that have injury histories and trying to make them come good. Sometimes it works for them (Nemeth), this year it didn't really work out with two of their main signings (Coelho and Mapp).
Jacob Peterson - Peterson had a career year in 2016, and there are really two ways to take it for most KC fans. Many are thrilled that he was able to step up and become at least some kind of secondary threat to take some pressure off of Dwyer up top. The other side of things is that KC put themselves into a position with their player signings where Peterson had to have a career year just to try to save Kansas City's season. Peterson still has something to offer this team, maybe not as a starter, but as that spark of energy off the bench if KC needs it.
Cameron Porter - Porter is another player under contract for 2017 already. Acquired from the Montreal Impact in the trade that sent Amadou Dia north, Porter has shown some flashes at time but has also looked out of his depth. One player that actually played fewer league minutes than Mapp did. I think Porter could be someone that replaces Peterson as that spark f Sporting decides not to bring Peterson back to KC.
Diego Rubio - The sixth player under contract for 2017, Rubio will unfortunately miss a good chunk of the start of the 2017 season as he too recovers from an ACL tear. With KC's single forward system Rubio only was on the field once at the same time as Dwyer was all year. His apparent inability to play the wing has put him in mainly a reserve role. It doesn't make a lot of sense to have a DP just to have him sit on the bench mainly, but it really isn't something KC is going to have to worry about for at least the first half of the season.
Daniel Salloi - Sporting's latest homegrown player is on loan in his native Hungary where he's become a regular starter for Gyirmot scoring a pair of goals. Unfortunately Gyirmot is currently in a relegation spot, which would likely keep a permanent move from happening. With Rubio injured and how regularly Dwyer plays KC could bring him back as the primary back up to Dwyer.
Graham Zusi - The last player currently on KC's roster already for the 2017 season, Sporting really needs to start getting production from Zusi again. Over the past two seasons he's scored just four goals and added nine assists in league play, that's as many goals as he was involved in 2014 alone (five goals, eight assists). We were told last year it was because of lingering injuries. Unfortunately being healthy in 2016 hasn't helped to turn his form around. The grumbles from the fans that have grown to love Zusi are starting to get higher, especially with his DP status.
Outlook: Of the four areas, the forward/wing position is probably where Kansas City needs the most house cleaning; coincidently it's also where KC has the most players already under contract for 2017. KC gets plenty of production from Dwyer this past season, but needs to get more production from the wings in 2017 to be competitive.
Help from SPR: At the forward position, Sporting has the Rangers' leading scorer, Mark Anthony Gonzalez his ability to make the jump to MLS is certainly something to question though. There's also the USL's all-time leading scorer, Dane Kelly, but considering he has yet to make the jump to MLS, there do have to be some questions about whether he can as well. On the wings KC has Pasher who I previously mentioned as an option for outside back, and there's also Kris Tyrpak, who has some MLS experience from his time with Chivas USA.
Stay: Dwyer, Peterson, Porter, Rubio, Salloi?, Zusi
Out: Davis, Hallisey, Mapp
In: Pasher? Tyrpak? at least one starting winger.
Kansas City has a number of pieces that can be built on to get the team past the first round of the playoffs; they just need to add some pieces to get them further. KC has spent a number of years just trying to find that one, maybe two pieces required to get the team to the next level. This may be the first time since 2011 that KC has really had to come into the season with a number of new needed starters and impact players.