On a late morning last fall, Lawrence Olum walked into the Sporting Kansas City training facility hoping his old home could provide a new one. His stint with a Malaysian soccer club had lasted less than a full year, and at 31 years old, he felt he still had something to offer.
If nothing else: depth.
As it turned out, that was precisely Sporting Kansas City’s offseason target.
“With someone who can play defensive midfielder and central defender, that would’ve been big last year,” coach Peter Vermes said. “That’s something we could have used, so it was a simple decision for us (to bring him back).”
And already, only two months into the season, the depth piece has transformed into a regular starter by necessity. Sporting KC plays in San Jose at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and defensive midfielder Soni Mustivar is set to miss his fourth straight match with a lingering hamstring injury. Mustivar is unlikely to return before Wednesday, either, when the club continues its road swing into Vancouver.
Olum, who has made three straight starts, is likely in line for a couple of more. But a return to Kansas City was never about the playing time.
“Kansas City is home to me, so when I got the chance to come back, I took it,” Olum said. “When you go into the stadium, it makes it easy to come back. I have a lot of support here.”
Olum was reluctant to speak negatively about his one year in Malaysia, but the original plan called for more than a 12-month stay.
“It was just a different soccer culture they have out there, not necessarily good or bad,” he said. “But it made me appreciate what MLS and Sporting Kansas City do.”
Olum’s spot with Sporting KC remains ever-changing. The club would prefer him as an option off the bench, for both defensive midfielder and central defender, rather than a full-fledged starter, but Mustivar’s injury gives the club few other options.
The current role, defensive midfielder, is an important one in Vermes’ system, one that can ill afford to make mistakes.
Nobody needs to remind Olum.
In a 2-1 loss against Colorado on April 13, his turnover led to the game’s first goal.
“He’s a guy who can cover us at two positions that are really important on the field, which makes him valuable,” Vermes said. “I think he winds up being a guy that closes out games really well, especially as a defensive midfielder. But if you look at his history with us, he’s a guy who has to (adjust) based on what our needs are. That won’t ever change.”