On a weekday morning in March, Chilean striker Diego Rubio pulled his Sporting Kansas City practice jersey onto his shoulders for the first time, and he jogged toward the field to meet his new teammates.
After a few minutes, they split into separate teams for a scrimmage. In a fast-paced game on a shortened field, Rubio was out of sync, seemingly a step late to the action.
But then he found his place. Using only one touch, he unleashed a shot that beat a diving goalkeeper, skimming the ball just inside the post.
Three months later, that initial practice has proven symbolic of Rubio’s introduction to Kansas City. He has yet to break into the starting lineup as he adapts to an unfamiliar setting, playing only 183 minutes in Major League Soccer matches this season.
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But in that time, he’s mixed an ability to finish with the flashes of growing pains. He’s scored twice while serving primarily as Dom Dwyer’s backup or a late-game substitute.
“Everything in every league takes time,” Rubio said. “We have a very good team, a very competitive team. Dom is an amazing striker.
“I try to play all the time. You try to help the team. If you’re not (starting), you try to give everything for the team, even if you only get five minutes.”
His time may be further dwindling.
Sporting KC acquired Rubio on loan from Spanish-club Real Valladolid, and the initial agreement expires Thursday. Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said he remains in negotiations with Real Valladolid to extend the loan through the remainder of the season, but the two sides are yet to settle on a price. Vermes also called Thursday’s deadline a “soft date,” adding that Rubio would likely remain with Sporting KC while negotiations are taking place.
“I would like to hope we can get a deal done with their side so he can stay here and continue on,” Vermes said. “I think getting acclimated to the league is an important aspect, and he doesn’t take it lightly. He understands it’s going to be hard.”
If Rubio’s time in Kansas City is extended, his playing time could be, too. Sporting KC is cycling through multiple competitions and travels to face Houston on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup round of 16. Sporting returns home Sunday for a MLS match against Columbus.
In August, Sporting KC will join the CONCACAF Champions League, producing a slate of five matches in 15 days.
“I worry about a lot of guys who aren’t playing, because what happens is they can get (ticked) off, and all of a sudden it affects the way they approach training every day, so when they get their chance, they’re not ready for it,” Vermes said.
“(But) he’s fit into the team really well because he’s got the right attitude and the right mentality to come here and understand that he had to come in and work hard to get better as time goes on.”
Sporting Kansas City at Houston Dynamo
WHAT: Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup round of 16
WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m. Wednesday at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston
HOW TO WATCH: Live stream on SportingKC.com