Sporting KC have re-signed Khiry Shelton from SC Paderborn. The attacker is a nice piece to add, but they must not fall into the centre-forward trap again.
There is an obvious need at Sporting Kansas City. It is the same need that has undermined the team for many years. It is the same need that supporters all over recognised last offseason and the offseason before that and the offseason before that.
Peter Vermes is an extremely intelligent coach. He would not be the longest-serving manager in Major League Soccer if he wasn’t. But his neglect of the centre-forward position is peculiar, to say the least, a potential blind spot in a defence-orientated approach.
Last year, Sporting KC only had two recognised strikers: Eric Hurtado and Krisztian Nemeth. They combined for ten goals and two assists in more than 2000 minutes of action. While Vermes would argue that his system produces goalscorers in other areas, especially from central midfield and out wide, Johnny Russell being the main beneficiary, these are not the type of goalscoring numbers an MLS-winning centre-forward group should be producing.
This offseason, Vermes promised an ‘injection of investment’ at every level of the team, from defence through to attack. Sporting KC suffered their worst season under Vermes last year and are now facing the uphill task of challenging in an MLS era that is increasingly revolved around spending, something that Vermes has always been hesitant — or unable — to partake in.
And so, with this need for investment, and an obvious hole at the centre-forward position, Sporting KC have embarked on their recruitment journey, bringing back former attacker Khiry Shelton after his contract expired with SC Paderborn.
Shelton scored two goals and added five assists in 20 appearances for SKC in 2018 but made the jump to Europe last offseason. He now returns, looking for regular football after making just four appearances across the Bundesliga 2 and Bundesliga campaigns.
In the statement, Vermes was complimentary of the acquisition:
"“Khiry is an experienced player who we are excited to bring back to the club. As the 2020 season approaches, we will continue to strengthen our roster with signings on all three lines of the field.”"
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However, the crucial line here is his protestation that Sporting KC ‘will continue to strengthen our [sic] roster with signings on all three lines of the field.’ This promise to invest at every level — defence, midfield and attack — has been made already this offseason when Vermes spoke about an ‘injection of investment’. It is important that he and his coaching staff do not believe that Shelton satisfies the attack portion of that investment.
While Shelton is a handy, versatile attacker who can play centrally or out wide, chipping in with goals and assists here and there, providing some speed on the counter-attack, he is not the prolific number nine that Sporting KC have been crying out for many years.
But we have been here before. Vermes has fallen into this trap before. Nemeth was not the number nine that Sporting KC required last year. Neither was Hurtado. The same can be said for Shelton in 2018. Vermes is seemingly able to convince himself that lesser strikers can perform as he needs them to, even though there is mounting evidence that they cannot.
The investment that Sporting KC fans are waiting for is not satisfied by Shelton’s arrival. He is a neat piece to add in a clever, free-agent move. But he is not the solution to the centre-forward problems.