Omar Bravo has parted ways with Sporting Kansas City after one season in Major League Soccer, and will return to Mexico with powerhouse Cruz Azul.
Sporting Kansas City announced the split on Monday, bringing an unceremonious end to a relationship that lasted just one season between the club and their highly prized Designated Player. Bravo was named the second DP in club history when he was signed in August 2010, before the Mexican star joined the team for team during the 2011 preseason. Bravo did, however, leave the door open to a possible return to KC.
“I want to thank Peter [Vermes], the Sporting Kansas City ownership and MLS for a great opportunity and experience during the memorable 2011 season,” he said in a statement. “For personal reasons, I am returning to the Primera División,but I do not want to rule out a return to Sporting KC and MLS.
“The quality of play in MLS is high and rapidly rising so I feel well prepared for my new challenge. I look forward to following Sporting KC’s continued success and to continuing my promotion of Livestrong and MLS."
Bravo started 26 games in his only season for SKC, notching nine goals and two assists while helping fuel one of the most high-powered offenses in the league. He debuted in the season opener on March 19 with two goals against Chivas USA in a 3-2 Sporting KC win, seemingly setting the tone for a successful pairing between the club and their new superstar.
And early on, little soured the Sporting KC staff or the club’s fans on the investment. He underwent sports hernia surgery in April and missed nearly two months of action while SKC struggled away from home, but he was a valuable piece of the puzzle upon his return, scoring seven goals in 16 games at Livestrong Sporting Park as SKC rebounded to an unlikely spot atop the Eastern Conference playoff race by season’s end.
But the moment that truly fractured the relationship came during Sporting KC’s appearance Eastern Conference Championship. Bravo battled a groin strain during the team’s Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Colorado Rapids and did not see time in either game, and then saw limited action in SKC’s 2-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo in the Conference Championship at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Bravo maintained that he was healthy and available to play during the Houston loss, while SKC manager Vermes instead opted to start Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong in place of the World Cup veteran Bravo up top with Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara.
Bravo came on in the 85th minute for defender Seth Sinovic but never made any impact, and Houston’s Carlo Costly deposited a breakaway goal in the 87th minute to book the Dynamo’s ticket to the MLS Cup.
“You know Omar at the end of the day, he is a competitor like any other player,” Vermes said after the match. “Guys always tell you they’re 100 percent, but when you can’t play the last two games in a short spell it’s not the easiest of decisions to throw a guy on and you’re not sure how he’s going to go.
“So, could I have? Sure,” Vermes said of giving Bravo more time. “But I think in the end the guys that were out there did a good job.”
Bravo avoided the media entirely following the game and resurfaced in the following days, when he told Univisión’s Contacto Deportivo that he was frustrated with how the situation unfolded.
“I felt like I could play, without a doubt, but [Vermes] said no, and I respect that,” Bravo told Univisión. “I started to feel a bit frustrated. Time was passing by and, even though I’m just one more [player], I felt that I had the capacity to contribute to the team. But five minutes are not enough.”
Bravo insisted at the time that although he was happy living in Kansas City, he would have to consider his future after the Houston game.
“I have to think about the professional aspect,” Bravo told Univisión, “and obviously situations like [the Houston game] give a lot to think about and talk about with Peter, with Robb [Heineman, SKC owner] and everyone in Kansas City.”
With Bravo leaving, Sporting now have a Designated Player freed up spot to attract another big name, as well as an additional international roster spot. SKC also declined to retain midfielder Jéferson, who was on loan in 2011 as a DP from Brazilian club Vasco da Gama.
Bravo spent his entire professional career in Mexico before trying his hand at MLS, including nearly 300 combined appearances with Chivas de Guadalajara over two spells from 2001-10. Cruz Azul finished second behind Chivas in the regular-season standings in the Mexican Apertura this fall.
Bravo’s 27 appearances in MLS are roughly in line with the other four Mexican Designated Players who have joined the league since Cuauhtémoc Blanco first made the jump in 2007. The average number of regular season games played in MLS among Bravo, Blanco, Luis Ángel Landín, Nery Castilo and Rafa Márquez through the 2011 season is 28.4.
WATCH: Bravo scores late equalizer against Chivas USA