As he sat behind his office desk last December, Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes analyzed the makeup of his roster. A whiteboard hung on the wall beside him, holding a list of the club’s players from the previous season.
He pointed toward the inventory of midfielders.
“Ignore that,” he said. “There’s going to be some changes there.”
Over the ensuing month, true to his word, Vermes made a series of moves designed to improve production in the middle of the park. He brought back former MLS All-Star Roger Espinoza. He added Krisztian Nemeth and Soni Mustivar, traded for Servando Carrasco and used a first-round draft pick on Connor Hallisey.
So what’s the verdict after two matches? To be determined.
Sporting KC is 0-1-1 through two games, placing a bit of early-season urgency on a home date with Portland on Saturday.
“You’re seeing us kind of getting familiar, not only with each other, but with the way we want to play, what we can and can’t do,” Vermes said. “And there are going to be mistakes along the way.”
As the familiarity improves, Vermes expects the production will, too, though he says he’s already been pleased with the amount of scoring chances the new lineup has created. The next step, of course, is finding consistency.
And while the timing of that cohesion remains uncertain, one thing is for sure: The revamped midfield offers the coaching staff options it didn’t have in the past.
Sporting KC has already utilized two different formations. In its season-opening draw against the New York Red Bulls, Sporting KC used two attacking midfielders and one defensive midfielder in a triangle formation. The club inverted that triangle on the road against FC Dallas last week, putting a pair of defensive midfielders behind one attacker.
Both formations will be employed moving forward.
“It’s still early. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other,” Vermes said. “I would just say each triangle has, for the players, a certain understanding. But there’s more to learn (before) they get comfortable with it.”
That learning curve is the steepest for Benny Feilhaber. An attacking midfielder for the past two seasons with Sporting KC, he has shifted deeper into the midfield.
Feilhaber was perhaps the most reliable offensive creator for the club during an elite 2014 season, but he says he was on board with the transition to a more defensive-minded role.
“My reaction was that I thought it was the best thing for the team,” Feilhaber said. “I was thinking very similarly as Peter. I think the way we play, we need someone in that holding spot.”
The largest adjustment to fitting into the new formations, Feilhaber says, has been a mental one — studying the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of his new teammates.
“It’s definitely a learning curve for us,” Feilhaber said. “It’s not going to be perfect from the get-go. There are a lot of new players, (even) outside of that midfield area.”
PORTLAND AT SPORTING KANSAS CITY
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, at Sporting Park
TV/RADIO: KCMI (Ch. 38); 102.9 FM, La Gran D (1340 AM)
ABOUT SPORTING KC (0-1-1): The club is set to welcome back captain Matt Besler, who was suspended for last week’s loss to FC Dallas. … Sporting KC announced Friday that reserve goalkeeper Jon Kempin has been loaned to San Antonio of the North American Soccer League.
ABOUT PORTLAND (0-0-2): The Timbers couldn’t make a late lead stick against the LA Galaxy last week, and that was a familiar problem in 2014. The Timbers allowed 14 goals in the 75th minute or later last season.
BOTTOM LINE: Only two weeks into the season, the difficulty of the Western Conference has already emerged. Sporting KC’s 0-1-1 mark is tied for the worst record in the 10-team league. That adds some early-season significance to Saturday’s match.
PREDICTION: Sporting KC 2, Portland 1