The Sporting Kansas City defense has cycled through six different four-man combinations in its first eight MLS matches. Ithas endured injuries and suspensions, and it will likely have to address another key absence in the coming months.
That’s all immaterial. So far.
While the mixtures have been unsteady, the defense finds itself in rather familiar territory one fourth of the way through the MLS season — leading the Eastern Conference with the fewest goals allowed. Sporting KC has given up only six goals this season heading into Saturday’s match at Montreal, three fewer than any other team in the conference.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why we can plug those guys in and they perform — it’s the same role and responsibility as the guy in front of him,” coach Peter Vermes said. “And if (a backup) sees (the starter) playing all the time, he doesn’t have a lot to change within in his game.”
The turnstile on the back line has reached nine different players this season — two have since been released and another is on loan with the OKC Energy of the USL Pro — but it’s had little effect on the results.
Sporting KC had no problem shutting down Columbus on Saturday, despite playing without veteran center back Aurelien Collin and his top backup, Ike Opara, who is out for the season following surgery on his ankle. Lawrence Olum stepped in for his first start of the season as a defender and helped Sporting KC post its third shutout in the past four matches.
“Our last game was a very good preview to ourselves of what we can do on a regular basis,” Vermes said. “We really denied Columbus the ball and the game and, more importantly, opportunities they’re more accustomed to having.”
It’s also a potential preview of the weeks ahead. Defender and team captain Matt Besler is a near-lock to receive a call Monday to join the United States men’s national team for its World Cup camp. If he makes the cut for the team’s trip to Brazil in June — also a near certainty — he would miss a minimum of six MLS matches.
Besler has been the anchor of a defense that’s led the league in goals-against average each of the past two seasons, and while his absence would be a glaring one, the team doesn’t show concern for it. At least not yet.
Asked what the message will be for the potential replacements, defender Seth Sinovic replied, “That there shouldn’t be much of a drop off, if any. We’ve, for the past three or four years, been consistently a good team and a very good defensive team. Everybody knows the style of play we want to play and how we want to press the game.”
The expectation for newly-inserted players stretches beyond the back line. It also includes the goalkeeper.
In his first season as a starter, Eric Kronberg is tied for the league lead with four shutouts, though he’s faced fewer shots than 17 other goalkeepers.
“I think he’s done very well,” Vermes said. “I think he’s made a couple mistakes, but shoot, I could say that about all the players on the field, as well. The great thing, which I didn’t know, I never knew once he made a mistake how he would react or recover from that and how fast that would be. He’s been very good. He’s been very confident.”Sporting Kansas City at Montreal Impact
3 p.m. Saturday at Saputo Stadium in Montreal
KMCI (Ch. 38); ESPN (1510 AM)
•ABOUT SPORTING KC (4-2-2):
In a three-way tie atop the Eastern Conference standings, Sporting KC is looking for its second road victory of the season in four tries. Winger Sal Zizzo is questionable to return from a left groin strain he suffered in New England on April 26, while forward C.J. Sapong will likely miss his sixth straight match with a neck injury.
•ABOUT MONTREAL (1-4-3):
The Impact is tied for last place in the Eastern Conference with only six points in eight matches. It's scored the fewest goals in the conference (seven) and allowed the most (14), not exactly a winning combination. But forwards Jack McInerney and Marco Di Vaio can be a dangerous combination up top.
Sporting KC had no trouble with the Impact three weeks ago, winning 4-0 behind three second-half goals, including two from Dom Dwyer. Montreal played an effective counter-attack in the first half, but an adjustment in Sporting KC's defense prevented the Impact from earning a shot on goal after halftime.
•PREDICTION: Sporting KC, 2-1