Children’s Mercy patients surprise Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi
Peter Vermes’ inclination is to do something. Tweak the tactics, change the lineup, overhaul a position, whatever it takes to reverse the momentum of Sporting Kansas City’s season.
The clearest opportunity sits a few weeks away, the secondary transfer window opening July 9. It’s the most pronounced chance to radically alter a group that sits in 10th place in the Western Conference standings.
A part of the staff’s disposition says to change the landscape, enough that Vermes and technical director Brian Bliss are identifying potential targets. But there’s a uniqueness to Sporting’s situation this summer — a reality that preaches caution.
“This is probably the most difficult (transfer window) we’ve had because it’s hard to evaluate our own team,” Vermes said. “If you have all your guys playing, then you would know where your deficiencies might be, and then you try to address those deficiencies. It’s just a very hard situation because of all the guys we’ve had out.”
For more than two months now, the injury report has featured at least five names, once ballooning past 10.
But captain Matt Besler is nearing a return, possibly even Sunday, when Sporting KC travels to play the Columbus Crew. Roger Espinoza, sidelined two months with a knee injury, recently started running and hopes to return to practice next month. Jaylin Lindsey might be slightly ahead of schedule in the rehab from his knee surgery.
Sporting expects a contribution down the stretch from everyone on the roster, with the exception of defender Rodney Wallace, whose hip injury will keep him out for the year, and possibly backup striker Erik Hurtado, whose timeline from a knee injury remains up in the air.
“That’s why I have to be careful,” Vermes said. “I don’t want to go out and do something (in the transfer window) that’s either emotional or reactionary that in turn hamstrings us for years to come. Because we do have guys coming back to help us. The summer window could be more centered around getting our current players back that have been out. That’s how I would say we’re looking at it, but that’s not saying we’re not doing anything in the window.”
There are other factors at play. Sporing KC does not possess an open international roster spot. Transfers from foreign countries are almost always expecting multi-year deals, not to serve as rental or quick-fix solutions.
And it’s more than the injuries responsible for the slump, complicating the self-evaluation. Confidence has been an overriding component. The coaching staff can point to plays on film in which players made atypical decisions, often derived from a fear of botching a play or simply waiting for something to go wrong.
In past seasons, as the summer transfer window approached, Sporting’s evaluation process centered on the here and now. In 2019, that’s only part of the equation. Vermes acknowledged that he is still looking at the start of the season — when the roster was complete and healthy — to generate an idea of his team’s ability. It’s a high ceiling, even if the performance has dipped toward the team’s floor.
The chances of repeating as the top seed in the Western Conference are all but gone. A ninth straight playoff appearance is very much in play; Sporting is just four points shy of the line.
But the decisions over the next few weeks will originate from more than a motivation to merely make the postseason.
“I feel like we’re capable of making a run to get into the playoffs and be in good form at that time. That’s what our objective is. It has to be,” Vermes said. “I’m not trying to sell you a bill of goods here. I’m trying to be realistic. We still have a lot of guys that not only have to get back, they have to get back fit and get back into form. And then it’s about getting ourselves in a playoff position and then being able to be in form at that point and really go after it.”