Sporting Kansas City was not exactly in a position that necessitated ripping up its entire roster and starting over. But that didn’t stop manager Peter Vermes from making several moves before Christmas, including the surprise move to send away striker Diego Rubio.
SKC signed free agent defender Rodney Wallace, who previously played for New York City FC, to a one-year deal. The club also traded a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 first-round pick to Vancouver for forward Erik Hurtado. Hungarian defender Botond Baráth was signed next, occupying an international spot on the roster.
And finally came the most blockbuster of the moves: SKC acquired midfielder Kelyn Rowe and $300,000 of allocation money from Colorado in exchange for Rubio. Colorado served as the middle-man between Kansas City and New England, where Rowe has played for seven seasons.
Despite the flurry of early activity, Vermes said the team could be expected to make at least one more move before the 2019 season starts. Still, he wanted the club to get an early start now because of the team’s short offseason.
“The big emphasis (with) the players that were targeted was that we tried to get them in as quick as possible because with us starting up with Champions League Feb. 21, we had to make sure we had a roster put together,” Vermes said. “We had to be ready with a full roster going in. I didn’t want additions coming in late. I wanted to start preseason with a full group.”
SKC is set to start CONCACAF Champions League competition Feb. 21 in Kansas City against Deportivo Toluca FC. The team that will line up then will boast several new options, albeit without Rubio, who scored 15 goals for Kansas City in 51 regular-season appearances.
Still, Vermes feels good about his attacking options next year.
“We’ve added Hurtado. We have (Krisztian) Nemeth. As you saw this past year, (Daniel) Salloi can play in there as well,” Vermes said. “Even (Yohan) Croizet can play as a false nine if we have to. So, we have other abilities to play that position, so I feel comfortable with those guys and confident.”
Behind that attack, Vermes expects Baráth to be a “right-footed, right-channel central defender” and Wallace to play left back. Rowe – who Vermes praised for being versatile enough to play several midfielder positions – will likely occupy an interior spot.
The roster activity on the back line stirred up more questions about veteran defender Ike Opara’s future with the club. ESPN reported that Opara asked Vermes to consider trade options.
“He did not ask for a trade,” Vermes said. “What he did ask for was like a lot of people ask for this time of the year; they’d like to get more money. … That’s not abnormal on anybody’s team in the league. … At the same time, he also said he’d like to finish his career in Kansas City if it was possible. He just wants to make more money.”
Vermes clarified that no one on the team, including Opara, was “untouchable,” but that the club hadn’t received any offers involving the defender that would “even be remotely worth a conversation.”
As the roster continues to shift and settle, it’s likely SKC could still add another new face.
“I think we’re very close,” Vermes said. “There’s a good chance there might be one other addition but that will probably come a little later. …It’ll probably be around somewhere in mid- to late January, early February, but outside of that, we have almost finalized our roster.”