Soccer is often a grueling and unforgiving game with an equally grueling and unforgiving schedule. This year, from pre-season camps to the MLS Cup Final, the schedule stretches from the third/fourth week of January to December 1.
In that schedule, the league will squeeze in 34 league games for each team. The U.S. Open Cup could potentially add five more games. (Sporting Kansas City isn't in this year's CONCACAF Champions League, but it added six games last year to Los Angeles' schedule.) Throw in a friendly or two (KC had exactly two of those last year), the playoffs, reserve league games and you're pushing 45-50 games stretched over 10 months.
You need a deep roster to account for all of that action. And that's not accounting for the players who will miss time due to injuries, international duty, red cards and Aurelien Collin's inevitable yellow-card accumulation suspension.
For Sporting Kansas City, who open preseason camp officially this morning, building depth to cover all of the games/absences seems to have been the Number 1 priority.
For good reason. In 2011, only three players didn't miss a league game for any reason other than "coach's decision" -- C.J. Sapong (the only player who saw action in all 34 MLS games), Graham Zusi and Matt Besler (who both played 32 games).
The major injuries: Omar Bravo and Davy Arnaud missed multiple games recovering from sports hernia surgery, Collin missed a few weeks with a back injury, Craig Rocastle and Luke Sassano tore up their knees mid-season and promising reserve Daneil Cyrus broke his foot.
The Gold Cup also took Roger Espinoza, Stephane Auvray and Rocastle away for a month; Kei Kamara missed several games traveling to play with Sierra Leone as well.
Let's take a closer look at games missed.
The Top 15 players last year (let's call them Jimmy Nielsen, Chance Myers, Collin, Besler, Seth Sinovic, Michael Harrington, Julio Cesar, Zusi, Espinoza, Jeferson, Arnaud, Bravo, Sapong, Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara) missed 88 games* for whatever reason (injury, call-up, suspension, etc.).*This accounts for Sinovic, Jeferson and Collin not playing a full season with KC. I subtracted their games played from the total games they were available to play. Collin was available for 30 games and played in 23 of them, for example.
The Top 18 (adding in Birahim Diop, Luke Sassano and Milos Stojcev) missed 151**. Rocastle (who would've replaced Diop in the Top 18 if healthy) missed 28 games last season due to injury alone.**Those numbers, obviously, are a little skewed as Diop and Stojcev were mostly absent due to coach's decision.
While depth is important to help cover for missing players, it's also vital to helping a coach change tactics during the game.
Kansas City's main substitutes in 2011 were Sapong (12 substitute appearances), Diop (10), Bunbury (9), Harrington (7), Zusi (7), Kamara (6) and Arnaud (6).******It would seem Peter Vermes did a decent job of rotating his strikers depending on the match-up and form. Kamara, Bunbury and Sapong all made more than 28 appearances.
While it's far too early to assess how Vermes has altered his options on the bench as of yet, you can see from the list below that he has depth and competition at each and every spot on the field.
Here is Sporting's current roster ahead of training camp today.
New players initalics
. Key: 1=Trade; 2=New Signing; 3=SuperDraft pick; 4=Supplemental Draft pick.Goalkeepers: 3
Jimmy Nielsen, Eric Kronberg, Jon KempinFullbacks: 7
Chance Myers, Seth Sinovic, Michael Harrington, Korede Aiyegbusi, Kevin Ellis, Shawn Singh4, Kyle Miller4 Centerbacks: 7
Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Julio Cesar, Daneil Cyrus, Lawrence Olum, Cyphian Hedrick 3, Stefan Antonijevic4 Midfielders: 8
Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi, Paulo Nagamura1, Michael Thomas2, Luke Sassano, Peterson Joseph, Konrad Warzycha, Pablo Punyed4 Forwards: 8
/ > Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara , C.J. Sapong, Bobby Convey 1, Jacob Peterson2, Dom Dwyer3
, Soony Saad, Birahim Diop********I'm hearing that Diop hasn't reported for camp, even though he is expected to be here.
Obviously, the roster only allows for 30 players (there are 33 in camp), so there are bound to be some tough cuts.