Over the course of two hours in the middle of a Sunday afternoon in Chicago, Sporting Kansas City envisioned its first glimpse of six weeks of life without Matt Besler and Graham Zusi.
The verdict: It could be a long six weeks for the defending MLS champions.
Unable to overcome a makeshift defense and the resulting pair of penalty-kick goals from reigning most valuable player Mike Magee, Sporting KC suffered a 2-1 defeat Sunday against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.
The Fire spoiled the Major League Soccer debut for 17-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown, whose first appearance was cut short when he was ejected Sunday after picking up his second yellow card in the 64th minute.
"I thought the two penalty kicks early on were warranted. I thought after that we settled in," manager Peter Vermes said. "We really didn't give any other chances away. We actually had quite a few great chances in front of their goal."
But only one found the net.
Trailing 2-0 when Palmer-Brown was sent off, Sporting KC started its comeback effort down a man. Dom Dwyer headed home a set-piece pass from Benny Feilhaber in the 68th minute — Dwyer's team-best eighth goal of the season — but the club couldn't overcome a shaky start from a lineup enduring a bevy of injuries and playing without Besler and Zusi, who are with the the United States men's national team for its pre-World Cup camp in California. That stint that could balloon to six weeks if they are selected to the final World Cup roster.
The makeshift lineup most notably included Palmer-Brown, who became the youngest player in MLS history to start a regular season match at defender. Palmer-Brown, a resident of Lee's Summit, turned 17 on April 24.
The debut lasted only 64 minutes. Palmer-Brown was ejected in the second half after picking up his second yellow card of the match for a dangerous challenge.
"If (the referee) is going to give that red card, he should've gave three to Chicago," Vermes said of Palmer-Brown's second card.
It spelled the end of an eventful day for Palmer-Brown, whose appearance required Sporting KC to shift from its usual 4-3-3 formation to a 3-5-2 formation as Vermes tried to accommodate the lack of options in the center of his defense. In addition to Besler, Aurelien Collin (hamstring injury), Lawrence Olum (Kenyan national team) and Ike Opara (ankle injury) were unavailable on the back line Sunday.
"We put a lot of pressure on (Palmer-Brown) today to have to come in there and step in," Vermes said. "I thought he did well with the opportunity."
The absences, though, turned the backbone of the team into its biggest question mark against Chicago and Magee, who scored 21 goals last season en route to winning the league's MVP award.
Magee had two more Sunday — both of them on penalty kicks in the first 15 minutes of the match.
Sporting KC goalkeeper Eric Kronberg was whistled for taking down Quincy Amarikwa in the seventh minute, leading to Magee's first penalty kick. Only eight minutes later, Palmer-Brown shoved midfielder Benji Joya, who sprawled onto the grass upon contact. Magee hit the back of the net again for an early 2-0 advantage.
Chicago, 2-2-6, withstood a gritty effort from Sporting KC over the final 20 minutes to preserve its first home victory of the season.
Sporting KC, 5-4-2, will return home to host Toronto FC on Friday night at Sporting Park. The club may be without all five natural center backs on its roster.