Sporting Kansas City today got things moving on what appears to be a busy offseason for the club, announcing they'd picked up options for five players, declined options on five players, and that another six were out of contract.
The club announced that they had picked up options on Saad Abdul-Salaam, Benji Joya, Jimmy Medranda, Lawrence Olum, and Seth Sinovic. Abdul-Salaam established himself as the starting right back in front of Chance Myers, his return was always expected after his performance in 2017. Joya made only a single appearance for KC in 2016, in the CCL against Central FC, after joining the club at the roster freeze, but based off his history with the US youth national team and in Mexico, giving him some more time with the club is something the club is obviously interested in. Medranda, like Abdul-Salaam was an obvious choice to retain after his break out year in 2016 at left back. While the team has mentioned they see his spot eventually further up the field, keeping him around for 2017 is the first step in that process.
The final two that had options picked up are a little bit of a surprise. With Medranda's emergence this season I thought Sinovic might have been slowly making his way out, but his performance over the last month or so of the season showed that he's still able to contribute to the team and may still be the best left back when paired with Matt Besler at the left center back position. As for Olum, he is a bit of a surprise considering he missed much of the later half of the season due to injury. Still though he was able to contributor at center back for Sporting throughout the season when he was healthy. Having an emergency center back and emergence defensive midfielder that knows KC's system isn't a bad thing as long as the price is right (made $105,000 this past season).
Of the five who had their options declined for 2017, it's a list of players that most fans won't be surprised about with Ever Alvarado, Emmanuel Appiah, Connor Hallisey, Jon Kempin, and Justin Mapp, all being declined. Alvarado and Appiah were brought in during the summer transfer window but both spent the majority of their time in Kansas City with the Swope Park Rangers. Alvarado a victim of the emergence of Medranda, and Appiah, a first round pick for Colorado wasn't able to push his way into the midfield and was pushed down the depth chart by Joya.
Hallisey's career in KC has been less than stellar, I was one of those last year that felt that Hallisey needed to have another year to prove himself, unfortunately he didn't do that in 2016, struggling offensively with his ability to finish. At times he looked like he was a step slow on the field and this was compounded by the fact that most teams would try to force KC to play to his side of the field when he was on, exposing the flaws in his game more so than he probably deserved. With Kempin, KC looks set to part ways with their first homegrown player, and while some fans are disappointed by this, I think many would also say that it's a move for the best for him. His struggles to get time when loaned to USL affiliates has been noted over the past couple years, and haven't been helped by KC's starters not being able to stay healthy (or not stick around in Luis Marin's case). But when given the chance both with KC and with their USL affiliates, Kempin hasn't been able to take charge, the writing was most certainly on the wall when Adrian Zendejas made the Rangers starting goalkeeping spot is own while Kempin was recalled with the first team. Kempin, having been in the league since he was 16 is eligible for the re-entry draft this year.
The final declined option is probably the least surprising of the moves, Mapp. The first free agent signing in MLS history was an abject failure on the field for KC. He probably had more public appearances for the club than he had appearances on the field (6) so his name appearing on the list as not having his option not picked up isn't surprising at all. Mapp is able to go into free agency again or he can go through the re-entry draft.
Six more players are now out of contract, Nuno Coelho, Kevin Ellis, Alec Kann, Chance Myers, Paulo Nagamura, and Jacob Peterson. Coelho appears to be the only one that doesn't have an immediate available option within MLS. Coelho had a strong start to the season, but injuries (something that's hampered him throughout his playing career) limited him to just one 90 minute appearance after 5/21. As a central defender that really isn't something that KC can afford, so his departure isn't a surprise, especially one that is making $375,000 in guaranteed compensation.
The other five players all have options to stay in MLS, Sporting in their release states that the club will extend offers to both Ellis and Kann in the hopes of having both return. By the end of the 2016 season Ellis had again become the preferred partner of Besler at center back, and though he continues to have his detractors, is still a good enough player to be a reserve in the league. Kann beat out Kempin for the number two spot and proved to be a capable back up for Tim Melia when Melia went down with injury.
The other three, Myers, Nagamura, and Peterson can all join Mapp in MLS free agency because of their age and experience in the league. Myers is coming off another injury plagued season, something that has cut his season short the last few years. Depending on his salary demands he's someone that could certainly find a job elsewhere in MLS. As for Nagamura, the midfielder turns 34 early in 2017, and played the fewest games and minutes of his MLS career in 2016. When he's on the field he's been a solid addition to the team, but the problem is that he always seems to miss a good portion of the season with injuries now. For a player making over $200,000 in 2016, that's just not something that KC can afford, even though he provides a ton of experience to KC. The last of those three is probably the most surprising to Sporting KC fans as Peterson had himself a career year for KC, hitting career highs in games started and goals. At 30 he became almost invaluable as a secondary option to take pressure off of Dom Dwyer offensively. Even at 31 most fans would have thought that KC could have found a place for him with his versatility on the field. As Sam McDowell put, KC allowing Peterson to test free agency would seem to be a big indication of KC's intentions to make changes on the wings in the offseason. At the same time, his entrance into free agency doesn't mean he won't be returning to KC, for example, Nagamura didn't re-sign with Kansas City this year until January 11th, after testing the free agent market in MLS. The same could certainly happen here.
One name not mentioned was Bernardo Anor, one of the club's touted signings before the 2015 season is on loan with Minnesota United until the end of 2016. The club made no mention of him in their release about the roster moves, but after asked responded by saying that he will not be on the roster come January 1st of 2017 reportedly with the expansion side in Minnesota picking up his salary.
After the dust settles, KC has 17 players currently under contract for 2017, a little over half the roster maximum of 30, with the likelihood of one of those 17 (Erik Palmer-Brown) being gone in 2017 still high.