The solutions had run dry by Wednesday, and as Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes accessed his roster, he found just one viable option to comprise his two-man center back pairing.
With as many as four central defenders unavailable for Saturday’s match against Minnesota United FC, Vermes turned to a last-ditch effort. Late Wednesday evening, he phoned United States men’s national team coach Bruce Arena, hoping Arena might lend defender Matt Besler back to the club for a couple of days.
“I just explained our situation and said (that) if it’s a problem, I’m not trying to force it,” Vermes said. “He said (Besler) can come back for this game, and then he goes back to the national team the next day. That’s it.”
Besler, who joined the U.S. team earlier this week, will miss the Americans’ friendly against Venezuela on Saturday. He traveled back to Kansas City late Thursday and took part in the Sporting KC training session Friday morning. He will return to the national team Sunday, while the Americans finalize preparations for World Cup qualifying matches against Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday and Mexico on June 11.
“They told me I was coming back to play in the game, so I got on the plane, and I’m ready to go,” Besler said matter-of-factly. “I don’t think it’s all that unique. It’s just part of the game. I’m definitely going to be ready tomorrow.”
Besler fills an obvious need for Sporting KC, which will be without his top backups Saturday. Kevin Ellis is out with a strained quadriceps muscle; Erik Palmer-Brown is away with the United States under-20 national team; and the paperwork has not yet cleared for newly-signed Amer Didic. Besler makes those absences a moot point, sliding into his spot alongside Ike Opara in the center of the defense.
Even so, Sporting KC remains shorthanded Saturday. Midfielder Roger Espinoza will serve a one-game suspension for last week’s red card. Defender Graham Zusi is still with the national team. And forward Dom Dwyer is questionable as he continues to battle a left knee injury.
That will prompt at least three changes to the Sporting KC starting lineup. The club hasn’t fared particularly well in such situations.
When it starts the regular 11, Sporting KC is 5-1-2 this season, an average of 2.13 points per match. But when the staff is forced to make at least one alteration to the lineup, Sporting KC is just 1-3-2, an average of 0.83 points per match.
“The consistency of our lineup has been a big piece of our success, but any team can probably say that, right?” Vermes said. “But the fact we have to play some different guys now, they’re going to have to keep the standard up.”
Sporting KC saw this coming. The World Cup qualifiers have been on the docket before the MLS season began, and Sporting KC has historically had high representation in CONCACAF. Espinoza is also in the mix to join Honduras next week.
The Gold Cup next month will present similar challenges. In part because of that, the club attempted to improve its depth this season.
The next couple of months will determine its success.
“We’re constantly trying to get all the players ready in case they’re called upon, but it’s not easy to do,” Vermes said. “Because they’re not getting the same reps (as the starters).
“But the goal is we still want to play our system, no matter who’s out there and who isn’t. I don’t want to change who we are.”