The starting lineups aren’t revealed until an hour before every Major League Soccer match, but the classified information can usually be found on the Sporting Kansas City practice field. In the days leading up to a game, the club’s projected starters dress in uniquely colored pullover jerseys.
Over a two-year span, as Sporting KC climbed to the apex of the league, coach Peter Vermes didn’t feel the need to identify which four defenders would wear the pinnies. Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic combined to make 90 percent of the starts along the back line from 2012-2013 — two seasons in which Sporting KC allowed the fewest goals in MLS.
“It was pretty much a set lineup, where if we were healthy, we were playing,” Sinovic said. “You knew those were going to be the four.”
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The days of that regularity are gone. In 2015, Vermes trotted out 19 different back-line combinations during the 34-game MLS season. None appeared in more than five matches together.
The objective for 2016, in that case, is quite obvious.
“Consistency is huge,” Vermes said. “That was a huge priority in the offseason. Consistency in the back is a big thing.”
Yet four days before the season opener Sunday in Seattle, it remains unclear which pieces will form the puzzle. The defensive lineup card won’t be an easy one for Vermes to fill out — though he’s quick to point out the reasoning behind that is different this year. “We have two lines, really,” he said.
The early indications point toward Myers, Besler, Sinovic and newcomer Nuno André Coelho as the opening-night defensive starters. Coelho, a central defender, was a 12-year veteran in Europe.
That would leave four players on the bench — Ike Opara, Kevin Ellis and second-year players Amadou Dia and Saad Abdul-Salaam, who combined to start 55 games last season.
In other words, the mix-and-match combinations will ideally be decided by competition battles rather than necessitated by injuries. Opara, Myers, Sinovic and Ellis all missed time last season because of various setbacks.
Sporting KC allowed 45 goals last year. Only three teams in the Western Conference gave up more.
“The positive is we’ve got a lot of depth at every position, and it’s experienced depth,” Sinovic said. “It brings up the competitiveness every day in practice. You can have good competition and not-so-good competition. I think the positive we have going is the guys all want to play, but at the same time, they’re not bringing other guys down. We want to make each other better.”