Sporting Kansas City defender Kevin Ellis walked slowly off the club’s practice field Thursday, a few days after an injury to a teammate necessitated yet another position change. He leaned against the wall of the training facility, took a couple of deep breaths and, in two words, perfectly summarized his professional soccer career.
“Plans change,” he said.
Often. At least they do for Ellis.
In fact, his career has been defined more by its required adjustments than its consistency.
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The latest move will likely come in Los Angeles on Saturday. When Sporting KC takes on the Galaxy, the defending MLS champions, Ellis could shift to center back and play alongside Matt Besler — the consequence of Ike Opara being diagnosed Monday with a season-ending Achilles tendon rupture.
“I started off the year playing right outside back, and I thought that was going to be my position this year,” Ellis said. “I spent the last three years here getting focused on outside back.
“But when you have a chance to get on the field, you’ll do whatever it takes and play wherever.”
In reality, the rearrangements started long before this season.
Ellis, 23, signed with Sporting KC in 2011 as the franchise’s second homegrown player. His youth days — and even his first season in college — included appearances almost exclusively at forward, but he shifted to a part-time defensive role in 2010.
Sporting KC made that change permanent in 2011, moving him to an outside fullback.
Until last season.
As the 2014 team scrambled for options while the roster experienced a myriad of injuries, Ellis saw the bulk of his time in the center of the Sporting KC defense. That was intended to be a temporary fix, and when Ellis entered training camp this February, he reverted to right fullback while Chance Myers continued his rehab from a torn Achilles tendon.
Opara’s injury Saturday negated that plan.
“The great thing about (Ellis) is he had a lot of experience last year,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “That piece helps him tremendously. … I always say the two guys (at center back) have to be pillars within your team. His experience from last year is a huge positive going forward. And now he gets his opportunity.”
Responding to a follow-up question, Vermes stopped short of naming Ellis the starter for Saturday’s match, but he is the most logical option to fill in for Opara.
At least in the short term.
Vermes said Tuesday the team will look to bring in a player from outside the current roster to serve as a long-term solution. In the meantime, the Opara injury has awarded Ellis a potential opportunity.
“It’s tragic what happened to Ike. I feel for him, and I’m praying for him,” Ellis said. “The good thing about this team is when one guy goes down, we all want to play for that guy. We all want to reach the end goal for that guy. It just adds extra motivation for the whole team.”
Ellis doesn’t fit the mold of a prototypical center back. He’s listed at 5-foot-9, and even his friends tease him about being too short to match up defensively against some of the league’s star forwards.
That’s just one more adjustment.
“I think it’s more about being in the right spots. That’s something I’ve really worked on with Peter and the rest of the coaches,” Ellis said. “If you’re in the right spot, you’re going to win the ball every time — whether you’re 6-5 or 5-9. It doesn’t matter, just as long as you’re in the right position.”