In some form or fashion, Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes has been a part of Major League Soccer for more than 15 seasons. But as he walked into a news conference Thursday, ready to field a bevy of questions about his defense, he was hit with a realization.
There’s still a first time for everything.
The most recent novelty will come Friday when Sporting KC plays host to Toronto FC at Sporting Park. Vermes’ club will take the field without a true center back available for selection.
“I’ve never had that happen with any position on the team. Ever,” Vermes said. “I’ve never experienced it as a player (either), where every guy in that position is unavailable. I’ve never been in that position.”
It’s not a desired one.
The Sporting KC roster features five natural central defenders, but none will be available to play Friday. Matt Besler is with the United States men’s national team; Aurelien Collin will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury; Lawrence Olum is with the Kenyan national team; Ike Opara underwent season-ending surgery on his ankle; and Erik Palmer-Brown is serving a mandatory one-game suspension after being ejected for receiving two yellow cards in his MLS debut against Chicago on Sunday.
That leaves the cupboard rather bare.
“Is it a challenge? For sure it is,” Vermes said. “We have to be really creative, and our team has to take on a different look, if you will, to try to adapt to the absence of true center backs on our team. By no means is it easy.”
It essentially leaves the club with two options. It could either shift two players to the middle of the back line where they have virtually no experience playing the position, or it could implement a 3-5-2 formation for the second consecutive match — the “different look” Vermes referenced.
Vermes said he was pleased with Sporting KC’s play while using the new formation — which requires outside fullbacks Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic to remain in more of a defensive mode — during the match in Chicago, even if it didn’t yield a victory. The team began using it during training last week.
“It definitely needs a little work, but it’s one thing you can use in the future,” said midfielder Paulo Nagamura, who is serving as the team’s captain during Besler’s absence. “... It just needs to have more practice. We all know the formation we normally play week in and week out. But to change the formation, it needs a little bit of training. I’m not going to lie, it’s a little bit different, but with training, you can achieve anything.”
If the club is able to experience some success with the new look Friday or the near future, Vermes hinted it could stick around awhile — even when the team returns to full health.
“I think we have the makeup to be able to play that way,” Vermes said. “Even with everybody available. It’s a whole different look.”
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TORONTO FC AT SPORTING KANSAS CITY
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Friday, at Sporting Park
TV/RADIO: KCMI (Ch. 38); WHB (810 AM)
ABOUT TORONTO FC (4-4-0): Another club hit hard by international absences, Toronto FC will be without midfielder Michael Bradley and goalkeeper Julio Cesar on Friday. The club ended its three-game losing streak with a 2-0 win against New York on Saturday.
ABOUT SPORTING KC (5-4-2): After dropping back-to-back matches for the first time this season, Sporting KC returns home, where it has lost only once all year. Claudio Bieler and Dom Dwyer paired together to form the offensive attack last week and may be called on to do the same Friday.
BOTTOM LINE: Sporting KC is unbeaten in four matches against Toronto FC at Sporting Park. Coach Peter Vermes holds a 7-1-2 career record against Toronto FC.
PREDICTION: Toronto FC 1, Sporting KC 1