Late in the first half of a cool evening in New York, Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi fell to the ground and reached for the back of his leg. A harmless-looking, no-contact play had resulted in an injury to one of the club’s star players.
The first of many.
Two months later, Sporting KC will be without as many as nine players — eight of the absences caused by injury — when it faces New England at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Sporting Park.
The injuries are piling up at a rapid pace for the second straight season. And that has left the club’s technical and coaching staff searching for a trend.
“If I’m at my house and we keep having a leak in my toilet, I’m going to do everything I can to figure out what are all the reasons why it’s leaking. It’s the same thing here,” Vermes said. “I’d love to know why it’s happening.”
Zusi has recovered from the hamstring injury, but a concussion will keep him off the field. Ike Opara (Achilles), Chance Myers (Achilles), Bernardo Anor (hamstring), Seth Sinovic (concussion) and Erik Palmer-Brown (international absence) also are certain to miss the match. Roger Espinoza (groin), Paulo Nagamura (back) and Marcel de Jong (hip) will be game-time decisions.
The injury list replicates nearly half of the club’s opening-day starting lineup. Sporting KC could have as few as 17 players available for selection Wednesday, even after recalling defender Saad Abdul-Salaam from his loan Tuesday.
In its search for a potential cause of the ongoing health-concerns, the team is analyzing everything in its daily routine.
In addition to examining its training sessions, weightlifting workouts, stretching exercises and warmup routines, Sporting KC is even studying the lunches it provides the players — a tradition the club started only this season.
So far? No answers.
“That’s the problem — there’s no real trend,” Vermes said. “... (But) we’re not completely done with all the analysis.”
The team has tracked every training session since Vermes took over as head coach in 2009. He says the practices haven’t required an increase in intensity over the past two seasons, when the club has endured a significantly higher number of injuries than it did in the middle of his tenure.
It’s the leg muscle injuries — strains to the hamstring, quads or groins — that seem to be regularly popping up without warning.
And thus far, it’s without reason, too. Unless you cite the potential obvious cause — bad luck.
“I know guys take care of themselves,” Sporting KC forward Jacob Peterson said. “I don’t think it’s anything the training staff is doing, the coaching staff is doing (or) the players are doing. I think it’s a fluky, bad run of luck here.”
If so, it’s been a two-season string of it. In 2014, Sporting KC hit a tailspin when the club was unable to overcome a rash of late-season absences.
It took only two months for the problem to emerge in 2015.
“It’s frustrating because you don’t necessarily know what it is,” Vermes said. “... You have to try to figure out whatever you can. It could be the circumstances (in which) it just happens. But some of those other things — we have to keep looking at them.”