The Full 90

As MLS regular season draws to close, Sporting KC continues to juggle starting lineups

Earthquakes midfielder Shea Salinas (right) is defended by Sporting Kansas City defenders Chance Myers (center) and Erik Palmer-Brown during the second half of Friday’s MLS soccer in San Jose, Calif.
Earthquakes midfielder Shea Salinas (right) is defended by Sporting Kansas City defenders Chance Myers (center) and Erik Palmer-Brown during the second half of Friday’s MLS soccer in San Jose, Calif. AP

When it comes to Sporting Kansas City and coach Peter Vermes this season, picking a starting lineup has been a juggling act that has lasted for eight long months thanks to injuries and international call-ups.

A tired act by now, sure, but one that’s not going away anytime soon with two games left in the MLS regular season.

“We’ve done it all season,” Vermes said following a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes Friday. “The guys are used to it. They understand what their responsibilities are. We’ve done pretty well with that situation, all in all.

“Right now, it’s not going to change in the short term. We’ll do what we have to do to make sure whoever is playing is ready to go. That’s what we’ve done basically all season, and I think the guys have responded well from that position.”

On Friday, Sporting KC’s lineup included three reserve players. Four if you count midfielder Paulo Nagamura, who’s filled in for the injured Roger Espinoza since early August.

Since Espinoza went down with a broken bone in his foot, Sporting KC has fielded a first-choice lineup onlyu twice. And even that stat omits centerback Ike Opara, who suffered an Achilles injury back in March. One of those games, the U.S. Open Cup Final on Sept. 30, was somewhat of an anomaly, too, as Vermes rested a majority of his starters leading up to the match.

Forced to tinker with the lineup so often, Sporting KC has seen a mixed bag of results. Players like Jordi Quintilla and Bernardo Anor have stepped up and logged considerable minutes. Former first-round pick Mikey Lopez has started three-straight league games and, by all accounts, has impressed by showing poise and a work rate that’s on par with Soni Mustivar.

Yet, by the same token, Sporting KC has picked up only 15 of a possible 39 points since the start of August. The reserve-heavy lineups have generated some surprising results of late – enough to keep Sporting KC above the playoff red line – but few, if any, have been totally convincing.

Vermes recognizes this concern as it relates to the playoffs looming, but he’s not about to let it affect his team. He believes the team has generated some much-needed depth that could benefit them come postseason time.

“When Ike goes down (early), it starts right there,” Vermes said. “A lot of guys have got experience, and that’s good. At the same time, it’s not good when you don’t have, game after game, the ability to pull from your entire roster. But a lot of guys have proven that they can come in and they can play. Erik Palmer-Brown played today, and I thought he had a fantastic game. He was very, very good in the game.”

In other words, it’s business as usual for Sporting KC, which can secure a playoff spot on Wednesday against the Colorado Rapids and a possible bye with two victories to conclude the regular season.

“We have nothing to complain about,” Vermes said. “It is what it is. We have to get ready with the next game, and whoever is healthy and strong enough, we have to go play.”

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