Updated: Jan 19, 2021
Happy New Year folks! 2021 is officially upon us (mercifully) and, with the European transfer windows officially open, we can expect the silly season to truly kick into high gear.
Having signed Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda prior to last season for reported fees of $9.5 and $4.07 million respectively (source: transfermarkt.com) and with Major League Soccer having recently invoked the force majeure clause of the CBA, it is relatively unlikely that Sporting KC will make a similar splash in the transfer market this offseason. However, there is a fair bit of intrigue surrounding the boys in Sporting Blue, so let’s break down where Sporting KC stand in their roster build, shall we?
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote that I thought Gianluca Busio would return for one more season in MLS before taking his considerable talents to Europe. However, that was before MLS homegrowns suddenly became the next hot American export. Rumors have swirled around Busio before, so, until we see something a bit more concrete, we should continue to take them with a grain of salt. That said, given what has transpired with players like Aaronson, McKenzie, and Reynolds, it seems we have to take the rumored interest in Gianluca from teams like Barcelona and Bayern Munich a bit more seriously this time around. In addition, Busio is coming off a legitimately very good 2020 that saw his value increase from $3.08 million on January 1st, 2020 to $4.4 million at year end (source transfermarkt.com). I have zero inside information on what the chances are that Busio moves during this window. I’m just a keen observer. However, as I said in my year end review, if SKC are getting legitimate offers of $5 million plus from teams anywhere near the pedigree of Barcelona or Bayern Munich, they have to let Busio chase the dream. Whether Busio stays or goes is going to have a big impact on the rest of Sporting’s offseason plans.
SKC has already signed French midfielder Remi Walter. Walter, 25, appears to be a solid signing having made 26 appearances for French YNTs and 74 Ligue 1 appearances (source: transfermarkt.com). Over the course of his career, he’s played just about everywhere in the midfield, but Vermes has indicated he was signed primarily as a defensive midfielder. With a rumored salary of around $800K and a contract that runs through at least 2023, he certainly looks like a guy who will play a major role in 2021 and beyond. There isn’t a lot of film out there on Martin, so it’s tough to give a comp or project with any accuracy, but you have to like the age, profile, and positional flexibility of the signing.
I don’t think Walter’s signing is much of an indicator of whether Busio stays or goes. SKC were always going to look to bring in midfield reinforcements this offseason and, given Ilie Sanchez’s age, it makes perfect sense to bring in a younger defensive midfielder who can share the burden as well as provide cover elsewhere in the midfield. Busio did an admirable job filling in for Sanchez for a stretch last summer, however, he is clearly more valuable to Sporting higher up the pitch. That said, Busio’s status will likely play a factor in a number of other unresolved contract negotiations. SKC continues to negotiate with Felipe Gutierrez, Roger Espinoza, and Gerso. Due to the CBA renegotiation that took place prior to the MLS is Back tournament, salary information was not released last year. However, according to the MLSPA the trio earned $1.65 million, $800K and $550K respectively in 2019. All will likely have to take a significant pay cut to return in 2021. My gut tells me that Peter Vermes will find a way a to bring Gutierrez and Espinoza back. However, I think Vermes will look to bring in another winger to replace Gerso.
The profile of that winger will likely be dependent on a number of factors. If Busio is sold, SKC will get a large injection of both cash and allocation money. That would potentially allow them to go out and sign a high-profile attacker to bolster the squad. However, given that the league and the players association are currently negotiating a CBA for the third time in less than 12 months, much remains to be seen. Teams, even those who generated significant transfer revenue, are likely going to be reluctant to make major purchases until we have a resolution. Following the league’s announcement that they would invoke the Force Majeure clause, the MLSPA released the following statement on December 29th:
“Today, less than one week after players completed the most challenging season in MLS history, the league notified the Major League Soccer Players Association that it intends to invoke the Force Majeure clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
This action sets in motion a process that could result in the league and its owners abandoning the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement and commitments made to players for the second time in less than nine months. It comes in advance of any negotiations and at a time when many players are enjoying time away with their loved ones for the first time in almost a year.
After a 2020 season of extreme sacrifice, immeasurable risk to personal health, and a remarkable league-wide effort to successfully return to play, this tone-deaf action by the league discredits the previous sacrifices made by players and the enormous challenges they overcame in 2020.”
That certainly doesn’t sound like a group that is happy to be back at the negotiating table, nor does it portend a quick or easy resolution. Not surprisingly there hasn’t been a player signing announced from outside the league since the announcement was made. We may just have to wait until the collective bargaining agreement is resolved for any major signings to be effectuated.
That said, if and when the season does resume, Peter Vermes is going to need to reinforce his defense. SKC’s defense was far better in 2020 than it was in 2019 (when it was a disaster). In fact, Sporting’s xGA per game of 1.2 led MLS (source: footystats.org). However, their actual GA per game of 1.36 ranked just 11th best in MLS and they still looked fragile at times as they shuffled a number of players in and out of lineup. Kansas City clearly recognized the need for improvement as they chose to part ways with Matt Besler and not pick up the option of Winston Reid.
Walter’s signing should help solidify the spine of the team and they added depth to their goalkeeping unit by selecting Kendall McIntosh during stage 1 of the MLS Re-Entry draft. In addition, Sporting has recently been linked with Molde FK (Norwegian Eliteserien) Center Back, Stian Gregersen. Below is Gregersen’s transfermarkt profile.
While still in the rumor stage, SKC has reportedly bid in excess of $1 million for the 6’3” 25-year-old Norwegian. Gregersen is a right footed CB who appears to be strong in the air, has solid athleticism and mobility, and has a little sauce to his game for a big man. I’m always a bit nervous about players moving from leagues like Norway to MLS, but Gregersen already has over 130 first team appearances and 10,000 minutes under his belt. In addition, he has made nine appearances for Molde in European competition and was recently Molde’s top rated playerin their Europa League matchup against Arsenal, so he has performed against better competition. This looks like a nice signing, if they can get it done. In the meantime, check out Gregersen’s highlight reel.
Obviously, there is still a lot of moving pieces as SKC continues to build out its squad ahead of the 2021 season. We’ll continue to provide updates as they come. As always, please follow me on twitter @MLS_Box@Box and be sure to check out the MLS Now podcast.