Matt Besler walked out of the Sporting Kansas City training facility on Thursday, a noticeable limp in each stride. Two days earlier, he suffered what he called “dead leg,” the result of a direct hit he took to his right hamstring in the United States men’s national team friendly against Honduras.
The timetable for his return is uncertain, but he is sure to miss Saturday’s match in Philadelphia, he said before walking gingerly to his car.
In many ways, the scene was indicative of an injury-riddled Sporting KC season. Besler has played through a multitude of injuries this season — a broken bone in his hand and a hamstring strain he suffered in the World Cup being the most prominent.
The affects of the hamstring strain lingered deep into the season, Besler said, but he was starting to think that injury was behind him — just as the team was finally getting healthy, too.
So much for that.
Besler is out Saturday. Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum will likely join him as a spectator after he injured his calf in training Thursday. Defender Aurelien Collin has missed three straight games with an ankle injury and remains questionable for Saturday.
“I think it’s about surviving to the end of the season, with the number of different situations that have occurred,” coach Peter Vermes said. “I don’t mean that in a defeatist way. I have to make sure that we get there healthy, and that’s going to be the biggest piece.”
Sporting KC has secured its spot in the postseason, which may prompt Vermes to give Collin, Gruenebaum and Besler extra rest to ensure they return to full health.
But he can’t wait too long. The knockout round of the playoffs — which features each conference’s fourth and fifth seeds — takes place Oct. 29 and 30, and Sporting KC remains a possibility to play in the Eastern Conference knockout match.
While stopping short of saying the team is looking ahead to the playoffs with two regular season matches remaining, Vermes acknowledged the importance of having a full complement of players ready for the postseason — even if it means sacrificing the best potential lineup in the short term.
“The bottom line is we have to be in a place at the end of the season here to make sure ... all those guys are healthy and ready to be in the playoffs,” Vermes said. “We have to make sure we get everybody back and ready to go.”
Besler said he hopes to return for the regular season finale when the club hosts New York on Oct. 26. But it’s far from a guarantee.
“The way the staff works is they don’t like to set dates. But I will say I will do everything I can to get back as quickly as possible,” Besler said. “I really don’t know. It just depends on how everything reacts to the treatments and to the recovery and rest.”
The late-season absences alter the chances of gathering momentum before embarking on the postseason.
Last fall, Sporting KC closed out the regular season on a four-match unbeaten streak before carrying the momentum to a MLS Cup championship.
It has posted back-to-back shutouts heading into Philadelphia.
“We have been playing well,” winger Graham Zusi said. “Teams that are playing well going into the playoffs typically go pretty far.”
The opportunity to close out the regular season on a winning streak still exists. But a handful of key components won’t to be a part of it.
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SPORTING KANSAS CITY AT PHILADELPHIA
WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m. Saturday; at PPL Park, Chester, Penn.
TV/RADIO: KCMI (Ch. 38); La Gran D (1340 AM)
ABOUT SPORTING KC (14-11-7): The club owns more road victories (eight) than any other team in the Eastern Conference. With two regular season matches remaining, it sits in third place in the East, three points behind New England but only two ahead of New York.
ABOUT PHILADELPHIA (9-11-12): The Union has been eliminated from playoff contention — in large part because of its inability to protect its home field. Philadelphia has won only five matches at PPL Park this season.
BOTTOM LINE: If Sporting KC wants to avoid playing in the knockout round of the playoffs, it needs results to stave off New York and Columbus and hold on to the No. 3 seed.
PREDICTION: Philadelphia 2, Sporting KC 2