As the 2022 MLS season draws to a close, clubs trickle over the line of being mathematically eliminated from the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Though games remain, focus shifts to the offseason and what's next.
Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (Sporting Kansas City version). Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
Before even taking the pitch for their season opener, Sporting KC picked up a couple of big losses to injuries: Designated Players Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda endured season-ending knee injuries before playing a single minute in 2022.
On the field, they got into an early hole they couldn’t recover from, even with the end of the season bringing an improved level of performance and form.
SKC have been one of the most stable clubs in the league, with Peter Vermes among the longest-standing first division managers in the world (started in 2009). The core of the playing squad aged, but the familiar SKC names are still there. Last offseason was a bit of a soft relaunch, but this winter may signal a complete refresh.
There are plenty of questions heading towards 2023.
Before 2020, Sporting KC rarely spent transfer fees to acquire talent, let alone figures that were among the (then) most opulent in league history. Their decade-long run of excellence was largely fueled by the SuperDraft.
That changed as MLS evolved and transfer fees continued to climb. SKC went into the market ahead of the 2020 season and signed Liga MX Golden Boot winner and Mexico international Alan Pulido for a reported fee of around $9 million.
The timing has not worked out.
Signed right before the COVID-19 pandemic briefly shut down MLS, Pulido looked really good during his minutes on the field in his debut season. But injuries have limited him to just 33 of SKC’s 89 regular-season matches (by the end of 2022). He didn’t play a game in 2022, with both parties opting for season-ending surgery in the winter to fix a recurring knee problem that cost him a lot of the 2021 season.
Pulido is now 31. Nigerian forward William Agada has been a revelation after signing in the summer. Vermes has rarely deviated from his preferred 4-3-3 formation. Does he return to SKC for 2023?
The center forward will be in the final year of his contract. Contract-year forwards can be a wonderful thing and depth is typically a good thing. In 2020, SKC were the best team in the West in the regular season and Pulido was an integral part of that.
But with Agada’s emergence combined with a preferred one-forward system… what if one of the club’s valuable three DP spots ends up as the second choice? For a DP, opportunity cost comes into play. Pulido’s future is a big decision in an offseason filled with them.
Tim Melia, Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza all returned for 2022. The trio are core members who have driven so much success for this club for more than a decade. All are SKC legends… and all are 35 or older. All have played at least 1,500 minutes this season as well.
Will any be back next year?
What about more generally in defense? How many new (presumed) starters will there be in 2023? Andreu Fontas took a step back after a season in which he was on Defender of the Year ballots. SKC hold a contract option for Nicolas Isimat-Mirin next year, too.
One player who will be back is Daniel Salloi, as the club agreed on a new, long-term contract extension for the homegrown winger in late August. Salloi was staring at free agency, in which the Hungarian international would be among the most coveted players on the market. But he chose to stay with SKC.
Much of the praise for SKC’s improved form has (rightfully) been pushed towards the additions of Erik Thommy and Agada, but another contributing factor has been Remi Walter’s improved form at the base of midfield.
While injuries to two DPs can derail any season and can’t be planned for, one area SKC can be blamed for planning was at DM. It is such a crucial position, a force-multiplier that makes the game easier defensively for those around him and, in SKC’s system, integral to dictating the build-up/ball progression.
Jose Mauri had a brief and utterly shocking opening-day appearance from the bench… which lasted 27 minutes before he was ignominiously substituted back to the bench. That was it, Mauri was waived thereafter. The backup plan to Mauri at the position was Oriol Rosell… who hadn’t started more than 18 games in an MLS season since 2013.
So, now the question for next season is if Walter is going to be the mainstay at the position (and either Rosell or a new signing is the rotation/backup) or if SKC will go out and try to bring in their version of Jose Martinez/Obinna Nwobodo/Victor Wanyama/Gregore/et cetera in the transfer market? That would open minutes for Walter playing as a No. 8 with Thommy/Kinda.