After starting the season as the worst team in MLS Sporting KC has temporarily turned things around and have gone unbeaten in their last seven matches. Obviously, the main thing to credit in this turn around is KC's change from the 4-3-3 to 4-5-1 formations (something I preached from the beginning as the 4-3-3 doesn't work in MLS. TFC could be decent if they also made the change as their back four, like KC's earlier this season, is being ripped apart due to the lack of midfielders to protect them). But over this unbeaten run KC has still looked vulnerable for large parts of games. Philadelphia would have taken all three points if they had had some better finishing on the night, and Vancouver controlled much of the second half and were slightly unlucky not to get a draw.
I have been very critical of the Vermes regime and the team he has put together. There are some positions that definately need strengthening, but with MLS's tight salary controls it can make it very difficult for a team like Sporting to add quality. The transfer window will open on July 15, and surely Sporting has their feelers out looking for players to add to the existing squad. But there are players within MLS the team could make a move for, as well as cashing in on some under performing players.
The two areas that Sporting need to address are the defense and midfield, meanwhile the striker position is filled with the fantastic C.J. Sapong, the overrated Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and DP Omar Bravo; and this group can also include Birahim Diop. But could one of these men, excluding Bravo and (presummably) Sapong be used as bait to bring in a defender or midfielder to either the starting XI or to add depth. Throughout Vermes time in KC he has put his trust in some unfashionable players such as Diop, so I don't expect him to be on the move. Meanwhile, Bunbury's potential out weights the possibility for a move. Who then can KC move out?
First on my list is Roger Espinoza who has underperformed all season no matter where he has played on the pitch. His performances against Chicago, in which Marco Pappa beat him on the dribble twice in the same sequence, and Espinoza's ridiculous outing against LA Galaxy prove my point that he isn't developing as a player and is not of the quality the team currently needs. Personally, I've never seen the attractiveness in Espinoza's play and though he can play both in defense and midfield I think it's time to move him on. Moving Espinoza would also free up an international slot if the team is looking at bringing in another player from abroad. With the free-signing of Seth Sinovic, who has made the leftback position his own, Espinoza is surplus to requirements in my view.
Stephane Auvary is the next on my chopping block. Much of the time this season Auvary has seemed like another body just making up the numbers on the pitch. His passing is horrid and his play is negative. In the match versus the Union he killed two consecutive KC attacks late in the game with passes from the attacking third back to the half-way line. Auvary gives an appearance of a hardman in midfield, but lacks the tenacity of Craig Rocastle or the workmanship of Luke Sassano. Sassano another unfancied player picked up in the re-allocation draft has shone this season for Sporting.
KC has finally settled on a centerback pairing that works in Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin. This pairing now has both the overpaid Julio Cesar and equally overpaid Shavar Thomas looking in from the outside. Vermes does have an infatuation on Cesar and still gives him plenty of minutes on the pitch. However, according to my stats Thomas has only been on the pitch for 37 minutes this season. Obviously, not enough time to warrent such a high salary. Unfortunately, Thomas is 30-years old and his best days are in the rearview mirror now (according to a KC podcast Thomas salary maybe half or full paid by Philly). KC most likely won't get much value from within the league, but could atleast open up a roster spot and acquire a draft pick for next season if they move Thomas. Being that Thomas is Jamaican I believe it would open up another international slot; he has lived in America for quite some time and could actually hold a green card that I am not aware of.
Of course there are fringe players such as Korede Aiyegbusi that should and could be moved. However, Aiyegbusi seems to have fans within the organization including Vermes. Aiyegbusi holds both British and Nigerian citizenship and moving him would open yet another international slot to bring in a player from abroad.
Even if Sporting is able or even willing to part company with these players to freshen up the squad who is available? Earlier this season it was rumored KC was interested in acquiring Toronto's Nana Attakora. Attakora has been frozen out in Toronto after failing to agree a new contract. KC could definately use another defender and Attakora is young at only 22. However, TFC would most likely want an attacking player in exchange and despite playing a 4-5-1 (now) I can't imagine Vermes moving Kamara or Diop for a young promising defender.
Another player who seems to be on the outs with his current club is DC United's Santino Quaranta who could add some skill and class to KC's current midfield. Quaranta was United's captain last season, but hasn't seen much of the pitch this season. To my knowledge hasn't played since May 14
*** (Unfortunately, after writing this paragraph the news broke that Quaranta is currently out due to a concussion he has sustained.) ***. If he is not hurt this obviously means he and manager Ben Olsen are not seeing eye to eye. Quaranta could play on either flank and help ease tired legs as the season progresses.
Vancouver's John Thorrington and Portland's Adam Moffat are two other players that KC could consider to fill out the midfield. Thorrington currently has a calf strain, but is a player with an excellent passing ability and could add depth behind captain Davy Arnaud. He has fought injury much of this season and has only appeared once in the league for the Whitecaps as a substitute. However, during his time in Chicago he was a valuable member to a team that had some good seasons during the Blanco era. Moffat on the other hand is a player who has never rekindled the form he showed early on in Columbus after injuring his knee. He has only appeared four times for Portland and probably won't get much playing time as the season continues. A draft pick or allocation money could pry him away from Portland and help Sporting solidify their midfield.
Finally, Sporting could go overseas to land an American plying his trade abroad. One such player on my radar is American Lee Nguyen who, due to being paid a higher salary, plies his trade in the Vietnamese V-League. Nguyen has made attempts to return to the US and play in MLS, but it has yet to happen. Nguyen can play in midfield or even up top and like Quaranta could add some class to the KC midfield. The downside to Nguyen is he has been playing in the V-League and though not completely inferior to MLS it is still a step or two below. The big question is can he make the step up to MLS?
This summer's MLS transfer window could be the biggest we've seen. The world economy is still in the doldrums and many teams from abroad could attempt to raid MLS for cheaper talent. Meanwhile, MLS's stock has risen over the past 18-months and we could see better talent continue to flow into the league.