SKC personnel chief explains why signing Rwatubyaye was a "no-brainer"

Abdul Rwatubyaye - playing for Rayon Sports FC

On Tuesday afternoon, Sporting Kansas City announced they had signed Rwandan international center back Abdul Rwatubyaye from Rwandan first division side Rayon Sports FC.

Collectively, the response around North American soccer circles was rooted in unknown intrigue. 

Rwatubyaye, a 22-year-old with extensive professional experience in his native country as well as 22 senior international caps, isn't exactly a known commodity around these parts and he's the first Rwandan to sign a contract in MLS. Did SKC unearth another unhidden gem and how does such a deal even come about?

Well, current LAFC and former SKC winger Latif Blessing played an indirect role, as the same intermediary who helped facilitate Blessing's transfer to SKC in 2017 put Rwatubyaye on the club's radar.

“You go back to some guys who have done well by you in the past, you put out a feeler," SKC Director of Player Personnel Brian Bliss told Tuesday. "This one originally came through a scout of the agent. … So we took a look, did our homework, made some phone calls, dug up some other stuff and (watched tape). We came to a conclusion that he’d be a good fit. Kind of like Latif.”

Furthermore, in the entwined small global sphere of soccer, SKC assistant coach Zoran Savic knew someone who coached Rwatubyaye in Rwanda.

"I always say that there’s always six degrees of separation on any deal," Bliss said. "You can always find within two phone calls somebody who has played against him, played with him or coached him. We found someone that Zoran Savic knew who coaches in that league and actually had him over there. Again, six degrees of separation, we found the information there, that corroborated the video we saw.”

The video they saw, both provided by intermediaries as well as independently acquired tape, showed an athletic, experienced defender who can handle both a pacey and physical attacker.

“His athleticism is the first thing that jumps out at you," Bliss said. "He’s quick, he can deal with a ball in the air even though he’s not huge, but he can deal with a quick, shifty guy. The overall amount of games he’s played at such a young age, you’ve got to take that into consideration that he’s got the experience and can read the game well.”

The transfer fee SKC agreed to is undisclosed, though Bliss admits the figure is based heavily on incentives. That, alongside Rwatubyaye's contract being guaranteed this season only, with team options through 2022, means the deal isn't of great risk to SKC.

“There’s a transfer fee, but it’s all based on games played," Bliss admitted. "Relatively, this is called a no-brainer in this business.”

The timing – just a week after the club traded former MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara to Minnesota United – will leave some wondering if Rwatubyaye was brought in to replace Opara, but Bliss says it's no more than a coincidence, noting that, "this one just happened to come around the same time the Ike Opara trade heated up."

Bliss also added where he expects the new signing to fall on the depth chart at the beginning of his SKC career.

“It’s too early to tell, but I’d imagine he’ll get loaned out to play some games," Bliss said. "But if he comes in and totally lights it up then he can find himself in the 18 in short order.”