Sporting Kansas City should get a lift from the return of All-Star defender Matt Besler, who missed the last three games after undergoing an appendectomy June 8.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
But Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes was quick to praise Lawrence Olum, who stepped into the vacant starting role on the back line, as well as several other Sporting KC reserves who stepped in to help the club gain four points from the three games Besler was sidelined.
That said, Sporting KC is expected to welcome back with open arms Besler and his long throw-in at 7:30 tonight in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals against the Dayton Dutch Lions at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“He’s left-footed in that position, which could be a big difference for switching the point of attack,” Vermes conceded. “He’s a good passer of the ball out of the back and reads the game, but the other guys have done well.”
Then again, the experience Besler brings might have a settling effect for Sporting KC, which is coming off an embarrassing 4-0 beating Saturday at the hands of the Philadelphia Union.
“It makes it easier (to play again right away),” Vermes said. “You get a chance to prove yourself and go again, and this is a big game for us — huge.”
Historically, the quarterfinals have proven to be the toughest round for Sporting Kansas City in the Open Cup.
Playing in the near century-old competition every year except 1999 since its founding, Sporting KC has a great track record of reaching the quarterfinals, making it that far in eight of 16 tries, but has only progressed to the semifinals twice.
For the last two months, Vermes and his players have trumpeted the Open Cup as a route into the CONCACAF Champions League, but first Sporting KC has to make it to the semifinals for the first time since winning the Open Cup in 2004.
Sporting KC has learned the hard way on a couple occasions — a 3-1 quarterfinals loss against the Minnesota Thunder in 2005 and a 2-0 quarterfinal defeat last summer against the Richmond Kickers, who play in the same United Soccer Leagues Pro division with Dayton — how tough it can be to knock out a highly motivated “minor league” opponent at this stage.
“This is their European Cup final, if you will,” Vermes said. “They’re going to come in here with nothing to lose. They already beat an MLS team to get here, so we’re not going to take this game lightly — just like we didn’t take Orlando lightly.”
Sporting KC survived a 3-2 third-round battle May 29 against Orlando City SC from the USL Pro ranks and cruised past the Colorado Rapids 2-0 a week later to reach the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, Dayton stunned the Columbus Crew in the third round in between wins against two Professional Development League teams, the Chicago Fire PDL and Michigan Bucks.
London calling Espinoza
Midfielder Roger Espinoza is among three overage players Honduras has selected to supplement its under-23 national team at next month’s Summer Olympics.
And Vermes isn’t about to deny him the opportunity to play in London.
“I’m not going to hold him back from that,” Vermes said. “I played in the Olympics myself. It’s a great opportunity, so he will get to go.”
But Sporting KC might delay releasing Espinoza to join the team for training.
“It’s a little different for Roger, because most of the guys on the team are on a break (from club play) right now,” Vermes said. “We’re still in the middle of our league, so it’s just a matter of when we come to an agreement about when he’ll go.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.