A few days before Lawrence Olum joined the Kenyan national team for an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying series, he met with Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes to discuss his ever-changing role on the club. During the brief encounter, Vermes relayed expectations that Olum would play a key part in the center of the Sporting KC defense.
How quickly things can change.
Two weeks later, Olum returned from Africa to an entirely different situation in Kansas City. Within hours after arriving in Kansas City on Tuesday, Olum learned that Sporting KC had agreed to transfer defensive midfielder Uri Rosell to Clube de Portugal, a team based out of Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon.
Suddenly, Olum may be more needed in the midfield than on the back line.
“I’ve been playing here and there in different positions,” Olum said. “But with the way the team has gone right now, I guess it’s my turn now (in the midfield).”
In fact, it’s Olum’s presence that made the club feel a bit more comfortable about transferring a key player in Rosell, a move that netted Sporting KC more than $1 million.
“He just has experience playing there. He’s calm on the ball. He’s good on the ball,” Vermes said. “He’s also another guy that’s actually big and can help us on set pieces. He’s a little different than Uri in that respect.”
Olum has never been a consistent starter in his three-plus years with Sporting KC, but he’s been seen as a top backup option and a quality player off the bench. That’s been enough to earn him 22 starts over three seasons, and he’s garnered his share of playing time in a couple of big matches.
He played the full 120 minutes in the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship against Seattle. A year later, he subbed into the MLS Cup final in the eighth minute after Rosell was forced to leave with an ankle injury.
Sporting KC won both championship matches.
“Compare that to this, this is nothing,” Olum said of his new role, later adding, “I’ve done it before. It’s just a matter of doing it all over again on a consistent basis.”
He brings a bit of confidence — but perhaps some jet lag — back to his club after helping Kenya advance in the Africa Cup of Nations competition with a 2-1 aggregate victory against Comoros.
Olum said he believes he will be ready to play Friday when the team travels to face Houston in search of its first win in its past six matches. He was a full participant in Wednesday’s training session.
Before leaving for the two matches in Africa — an eight-hour time difference from Kansas City — Olum said he adjusted his schedule to prepare for a smoother transition upon his return.
“As much as they talk about flying and all the time difference, it is what it is. You have to deal with it and just move on to the next game,” Olum said. “... Hopefully it won’t be a big problem with the (three) days that we have in between.”
Sporting Kansas City at Houston
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Friday at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston
TV/RADIO: KCMI (Ch. 38); WHB (810 AM)
ABOUT SPORTING KC (5-5-4): Forward Dom Dwyer was chosen MLS player of the month Thursday after scoring a league-best six goals in May. He will try to help Sporting KC break a five-match winless streak that dates back to May 10. Central defender Aurelien Collin is questionable with a hamstring injury, and fullback Igor Juliao is questionable because of a quad strain. Juliao was fined by MLS on Thursday for striking former Wizard Davy Arnaud of D.C. United in a May 31 game.
ABOUT HOUSTON (5-8-2): The Dynamo return home after they were outscored 8-0 over a three-match road trip. The club will again play without Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia, who are away on international duty. Houston has allowed a league-worst 27 goals this season.
BOTTOM LINE: Houston and Sporting KC have met in three straight postseasons — which has generated a budding rivalry between the teams — but both clubs are stuck in funks and hungry for a win.
PREDICTION: Sporting KC 2, Houston 1