Stejskal: Sporting Kansas City still searching for a striker

Felipe Gutiérrez - Sporting Kansas City - SKC - celebrates - goal- against - D.C. United

The summer transfer window is fast approaching and Sporting Kansas City are once again on the hunt for a No. 9.

SKC spent much of the winter looking to add a striker from abroad, but never pulled the trigger on a signing. With no overseas arrival joining the squad, Kansas City entered the season with Diego Rubio and Khiry Shelton as their center forwards, with Shelton quickly establishing himself as the starter. He’s been effective in possession with his movement and with his hold up play, but the 24-year-old hasn’t exactly filled up the stat sheet. He has just one goal and two assists in 12 matches, while Rubio has two goals in just six appearances.

Their lack of production hasn’t hurt SKC much – Sporting are first in the West, second in the Supporters’ Shield race and sixth in the league in goals scored. That doesn’t mean the club aren’t exploring an upgrade at the position ahead of the opening of the summer transfer window on July 10, just that their search might not have the same urgency as may have first been expected.

“We thought in the offseason that was going to be one of our bigger needs and we’re still looking at that spot,” SKC director of player personnel Brian Bliss told on Thursday. “I think it’s been proven, though, that the team is still performing at a good level. I don’t know exactly where we are in the league in goals scored, but I think it’s up there. So, it’s an area that we continue to look at, but I would also say that we’re looking at other areas to help us improve as well.”

Though they brought in Designated Players Felipe Gutierrez and Yohan Croizet and spent significant money to land Johnny Russell in the winter, Sporting KC still have plenty of room to make additions this summer. The Targeted Allocation Money they received from trading Dom Dwyer last summer and Benny Feilhaber this winter will allow them to buy Croizet’s budget hit underneath the Designated Player threshold should they wish to add a new DP. Any signing below that level remains in play, too. They also have an open international spot and space on their senior roster, meaning they wouldn’t have to move any of their current players to make a new addition.  

“We’ve got resources, we’ve got money in a wide range of areas,” Bliss said. “We could go DP and have enough resources to bring a guy down from DP status to TAM, we’ve got the ability to sign a TAM guy, we’ve got the ability to sign what I would call a regular cap guy, so it can run the gamut. It’s just got to be the right piece that we feel fits.”

And SKC do feel like they have the luxury of being patient. They haven’t gotten goals or assists from Shelton or Rubio, but Daniel Salloi has looked good playing as a No. 9 in recent weeks. Usually a winger, Salloi started at center forward and scored in SKC’s 4-1 win against Minnesota on June 3 and scored again after moving from the wing to the middle in the second-half of their Open Cup win against Dallas on Saturday.  

His production on the wing and up top, plus the solid goal record of Russell (five goals in 14 games) and Gutierrez (five goals in six games before he went down with injury), have Bliss confident that SKC won’t experience another goal drought like the ones that plagued them down the stretch in past years, even if they don’t add a new No. 9.

“We were pretty much reliant on that No. 9 position for scoring [over the last couple of years],” said Bliss. “I think with the upgrades in the offseason, we’ve got more quality in the roster, we’ve spent more money than we have in the past, and those guys have been able to contribute in that area and take the pressure off of Khiry, Diego or anybody else who’s played up there.”

As far as those other positions go, Bliss wasn’t saying much. He did address Thursday’s report from The Kansas City Star’s Sam McDowell that the club are looking for a left back, a position that’s been hit by recent injuries to Jimmy Medranda, Seth Sinovic and Cristian Lobato.

McDowell also reported that the club are searching for a midfielder this summer. Bliss acknowledged that the club are a bit thin at the spot, but he added that they’re expecting Gutierrez – who is currently doing individual conditioning work on the side of SKC’s training sessions – to return to practice fully next month.

“We took a run of injuries with Seth going down and Lobato going down and Jimmy Medranda going down, so we’ve got three guys [out] that have filled in or played at that left back spot throughout the season, but I don’t think we’re prepared to go and tap into a left back and put a fourth left back on our team,” he said. “We’re just going to have to make do with what we’ve got until some of these guys start to get healthy. And with Felipe out too, it’s put a bit of a chink in the armor in the central part of the field because we were thin there to begin with, but we know when these guys get healthy they’re going to be fine and our roster will be fine. So, I don’t know that those are areas that we’d be exactly targeting.”