Sporting KC

Sporting KC injury list, still growing, traces back to Champions League demands

Coach Peter Vermes after Sporting KC bows out of Champions League: “We gave away soft goals”

Sporting KC lost to Monterrey FC in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals at Children’s Mercy Park.
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Sporting KC lost to Monterrey FC in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals at Children’s Mercy Park.

The list has become so long that Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes can no longer inventory the injuries without a reminder.

“I know I’m missing someone,” he said as he stood on Sporting’s practice field.

A couple. But times are unusual. That adage about adding insult to injury? Forget it. This is adding injury to injury.

The latest: A pair of already-hobbled Sporting KC players recently discovered other broken bones. Entirely new injuries.

Teenage defender Jaylin Lindsey, already on a five-month timetable after knee surgery, stood in a sling and cast Tuesday, a pin placed in his wrist after an x-ray revealed a broken scaphoid. Forward Erik Hurtado is set for wrist surgery Wednesday ... after he’s missed the last two months with a knee injury.

And then late Tuesday morning, in the final sequence of practice, forward Daniel Salloi removed himself, complaining of soreness in a leg muscle.

Allow a full recap: That’s Salloi, Lindsey, Hurtado, Matt Besler (hamstring), Graham Zusi (oblique), Andreu Fontas (calf), Gerso Fernandes (wrist), Roger Espinoza (knee), Rodney Wallace (hip), Jimmy Medranda (knee) and Wan Kuzain (ankle) dealing with some sort of restrictive ailment. At minimum, that list includes half the preferred starting outfield lineup.

“Let me tell you this: It’s not getting better right now. It’s actually getting worse in the short term,” Vermes said.

So this glimmer of optimism was met warmly for a team that hasn’t won since March 31: Besler and Medranda did return to full training Tuesday, Besler for the first time since injuring his hamstring last month and Medranda for the first time in a year. Medranda will need time to build his fitness. Besler could return to the lineup on Saturday against Vancouver (7:30 p.m., Children’s Mercy Park).

The others are potentially long term. Weeks. Months. Who knows? Vermes called it unprecedented in his decade as Sporting’s coach.

There’s perhaps a reason for it: CONCACAF Champions League. The 2019 season began with the club rotating back and forth between two competitions, a heavy workload in the initial two months.

It’s more than that, Vermes says. It’s the circumstances of the Champions League matchups. A team opening its season. The other fully in the swing of one.

Asked if he believes there is a relationship between competing in Champions League and dealing with a rash of injuries, Vermes replied, “Sure. Sure I do. I think the relationship (exists) because you have to go and win those games. It’s a much different game than when you’re building up in the league. If I’m playing against you in the league, we’re both entering the game at the same place basically. You’re both gaining fitness week to week. But when you (open) the season and play a two-game series and you have to win and you’re competing against teams already into their season, it takes a huge toll.”

Looking back, therefore, could Sporting KC have rotated its lineup more often in those early weeks? Possibly. On the other hand, Vermes says that still would not address the root of what he believes is the problem.

It’s not the sheer amount of minutes that cycling through two competitions demands from the players. It’s the timing of that demand.

“The only way that it gets fixed is you have to play somewhere between 5-10 games before you enter Champions League. That should be the case for everybody,” Vermes said. “If you have 5-10 games under our belt, for sure, it’s a totally different way of getting prepared for that tournament.”

For now, the fallout is Sporting’s reality.

It’s an injury list of nearly a dozen names, Vermes rattling them off one-by-one after a practice, as those players stood idly by as spectators.

Besler and Medranda are on the way back. The remainder skipped practice.

The length of Zusi’s absence remains a mystery. It’s an oblique strain, not a pull or a tear, but there’s pain associated with it. Fontas’ calf strain was initially considered to be mild, and he’s able to complete many exercises without issue, but each time he tries to sprint, he feels it. He has been shut down for four consecutive days, with plans to test it this week. Fernandes still has his wrist in a cast, though he could theoretically play with it that way. Espinoza wears a brace on his knee.

Vermes will ask a bulk of the Swope Park Rangers roster and some academy players to train with the first team Wednesday — just to fill out two sides for a scrimmage.

“This is what we have, and it’s not like we’re saying, ‘What are you gonna do?’” Vermes said. “It’s getting hard to field a lineup — that’s what’s happening.”

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