Sporting KC

Sporting KC wary of struggling D.C. United

D.C. United is off to a wretched start.

There’s really no debate about it given the 1-8-1 opening salvo by coach Ben Olsen’s squad, which has a league-worst four points and scored a league-worst five goals through 10 games.

Of course, perhaps no team in Major League Soccer better understands how quickly fortunes can change than Sporting Kansas City, which battles D.C. United at 4 p.m. today at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Two years ago, Sporting KC opened the season 1-6-1.

Yes, it was part of a 10-game road trip as the club awaited Sporting Park’s opening, but even before the new stadium was christened Sporting KC kicked off a 14-game unbeaten streak, digging out from that early-season hole en route to the first of back-to-back Eastern Conference regular-season titles.

“You can’t look at their record,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “A couple of years back, we were in that same situation. We fully understand what a team is capable of doing even though in 10 games maybe they haven’t been the best. Our radar will be up.”

Just last season, the Los Angeles Galaxy broke from the gate 3-8-2 before rallying and winning a second consecutive MLS Cup.

For good reason, Sporting KC won’t be taking D.C. United lightly.

“The first 10 games, sometimes you’re still trying to find yourself, and, as a team, they’re still working towards that,” Vermes said. “But one thing you do see in their games is their guys are fighting and trying. I think they’ve been quite unlucky in quite a few games.”

Injuries have taken a toll on D.C. United, which lost 1-0 on April 5 at Sporting Park on Claudio Bieler’s 89th-minute goal.

Olsen’s club didn’t have midfielders Dwayne De Rosario or Nick DeLeon available for that first meeting, but both are expected to be in the lineup against Sporting KC, which now must deal with its own depleted roster.

Centerback Aurelien Collin and defensive midfielder Oriol Rosell are both suspended for Sunday’s game for yellow card accumulation, though All-Star midfielder Graham Zusi doesn’t believe the suspensions — nor the associated roster shuffling — will be an issue.

“We’ve shown this year how good our depth is,” Zusi said. “There’s been guys filling in at a number of positions who’ve done extremely well. I don’t expect anything less this weekend.”

Acquired in an offseason trade with the San Jose Earthquakes, Ike Opara has been steady and, at times, spectacular during four games in place of Matt Besler.

The likely candidates to fill Rosell’s spot are Lawrence Olum or Michael Thomas, but the situation is complicated by Besler’s status.

Besler has missed the last three games because of a sprained right MCL.

“He’s going to be questionable up until game time,” Vermes said. “We’re going to do a test all the way up until game time, because it was sore the other day pretty good. Again, we’re not going to put him in harm’s way if he’s not where he needs to be to be able to play the game at the level he normally plays.”

If Besler remains sidelined again, things get pretty hairy in terms of defensive depth and experience, which probably isn’t a good recipe against a desperate D.C. side.

“We know they’re going to fight,” Vermes said. “The personality of their coach — and I know what kind of player he was — he was a never-die attitude type guy. I expect that to be the case with his team as well.”