There’s probably a long list of MLS teams Sporting Kansas City would rather face without starting centerbacks Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin than the Montreal Impact.
That’s especially true given the game is in Montreal at Stade Saputo, where the Impact — ranked second in MLS at 1.63 goals scored per game — is 6-1-3 this season.
Still, that’s the situation coach Peter Vermes’ club finds itself in for Saturday’s 6 p.m. start, when Sporting KC will try to widen its lead in the Eastern Conference against the second-place Impact.
Besler remains away from the club as part of the U.S. men’s Gold Cup roster, while Collin is suspended for a match for yellow-card accumulation after racking up his eighth of the season during last week’s dramatic 2-1 win at Real Salt Lake.
“It’s not a good thing,” Vermes said. “I like to have all players available. I hate the fact that (Paulo Nagamura’s) not available, but it doesn’t help us to worry about it. The focus has got to be on the guys that are available and the guys that can play. I have confidence in the group that we have.”
Vermes insists that isn’t hopeful talk either. He genuinely believes that likely replacements Ike Opara and Lawrence Olum can get the job done.
“We’re fairly confident,” Opara said. “The team’s in good form right now. It’s shown all year, no matter who’s in there the team gets the job done more often than not.”
Opara has started eight games this season after arriving via trade with the San Jose Earthquakes. The club is 3-2-3 when he’s in the starting lineup, including an historic win at Houston on May 12 — the first loss for the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Opara played the hero’s role against Real Salt Lake last Saturday, heading home a Graham Zusi corner kick for the winning goal in the 97th minute.
Obviously, Opara’s confidence is soaring at the moment.
“That was amazing,” Opara said. “We’ve had a couple games this year, like Seattle when they scored on us late in the game or at Dallas, so we were due for giving a gutting blow to another team. It felt good to be on the other end of it.”
With or without that goal, Vermes doesn’t see any reason Opara’s confidence shouldn’t be off the charts.
“He’s played very well every time he’s had to come in and play for us,” Vermes said. “He’s done a great job. He should feel very confident just on his play. Obviously, the goal is some added boost, but he should already feel very confident, because every one of his performances has been good for us so far.”
Meanwhile, Olum hasn’t spent much time at centerback this season, but he got the nod last summer when Collin was suspended for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship game and played well.
“Lo has an uncanny ability to play multiple positions, which is great, especially up the middle part of the field,” Vermes said. “I have a huge amount of confidence with him playing there.”
Even going up against Italian striker Marco Di Vaio, whose 11 goals for Montreal rank third in MLS, doesn’t faze Olum.
“These are the type of games you want to be in, the big games that really affect the standings, so you can measure up against some of the top players in the league,” Olum said. “It shows you where you are. My confidence is good, though, so I’m not really worried.”
Mechack Jerome, who played well at centerback for Haiti during Gold Cup play, is a possibility to start at centerback as well.
Regardless of who plays, communication will be key.
“There’s going to be a lot of communication needed, so that’s the main thing we’ll have to get sorted out,” Opara said. “Tactically and technically, all those things, I think Lo’s going to be fine. We probably haven’t worked together as much as we would have liked if that’s going to be the pairing, but I think we’ll be fine.”Sporting KC at Montreal Impact
6 p.m. on Saturday at Stade Saputo in Montreal
KSMO (Ch. 62); WHB (810 AM), KDTD (1340 AM)
•ABOUT SPORTING KC (10-5-6, 36 points):
Sporting KC is riding a three-match win streak and a six-game unbeaten streak. Coach Peter Vermes’ club hasn’t lost on the road since April 20 at the LA Galaxy. Sporting is an MLS-best 5-2-3 away from home. Much of the focus will be on who’s missing — defenders Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin along with midfielder Paulo Nagamura — but the roster isn’t thin. Graham Zusi, Claudio Bieler and Kei Kamara provide plenty of firepower going forward. Benny Feilhaber is rounding into form, while Soony Saad and Oriol Rosell continue to emerge and cash in on their immense talent and promise.
•ABOUT MONTREAL (9-5-5, 32 points):
The Impact is winless in its last five matches (0-2-3), including draws with struggling Toronto FC and Chivas USA as well as a 4-0 loss against the New York Red Bulls. Of course, Montreal has been strong at home and midfielder Justin Mapp has been a Sporting KC-killer with four career goals in the series. Along with Felipe Martins, who has three goals and five assists, and MLS All-Star Patrice Bernier, who also has a team-high five assists, Montreal is strong in the middle and will aim to disrupt Sporting KC’s possession-oriented style.
If Montreal coach Marco Schallibaum makes it to the final whistle, it will be the first time this season against Sporting. He was dismissed from both matches at Sporting Park — a 2-0 loss on March 30 and a 2-1 win on June 1. If the third and final meeting of the regular season is anything like the first two, expect tempers to flare. The best chance for Sporting to protect a reserve centerback pairing will be for goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and outside backs Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic to avoid careless mistakes and the midfield not to give away possession or free kicks in dangerous spots.
•PREDICTION: Draw, 2-2