SKC Notebook: Zusi making case for starting spot

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Omar Bravo is healthy again and Ryan Smith is finally match fit, but manager Peter Vermes is still doing some tinkering as he attempts to find the right mix of attackers in Sporting’s 4-3-3 formation.

So far this season, Vermes has stuck to a few ground rules. Either Teal Bunbury or C.J. Sapong start at target forward while two of Bravo, Smith, Kei Kamara and Chance Myers start the game on the flanks based on fitness, form and the opponent.

But where selection isn’t so cut and dried is at attacking midfielder, a position Kansas City bolstered in the offseason but nobody has yet made their own.

Through nine league and two US Open Cup matches, Vermes has tried Milos Stojcev, Bravo and Graham Zusi at the top of Sporting’s midfield triangle. For now, it appears he has settled on Zusi, who started the team’s last two games in that position against New England and Colorado.

Zusi’s passing range, work rate and blistering shot make him a logical choice even though he hasn’t been a regular starter thus far in two-plus years with Kansas City. Vermes said he was happy with the 24-year-old’s play against the Revs and Rapids last week, but added he doesn’t think anyone has truly seen the best from the young midfielder yet.

“Graham covers a lot of ground and he has a deadly shot from distance,” Vermes said, “[but] I don’t think he’s found his flow so much going forward yet. He’s done a lot of work on both sides of the ball, but I don’t think he’s been around the box enough. He has it in him. Once he gets his feel and a little rhythm, he’ll be a little more potent from that point of view.”

Zusi has been running with the first team this week in training, a sign he will likely get another opportunity this weekend in Toronto. Davy Arnaud and Craig Rocastle are the logical choices to start behind him in the midfield.

Vermes said Arnaud, who would normally be the favorite to pull the attacking strings himself, has taken on more of a defensive role by necessity. With Sporting struggling to control the center of the field and keep the ball out of the net, the team has transitioned to two holding midfielders, allowing Arnaud’s intensity and field coverage to have more of an impact on the game and his teammates.

“Davy has taken on a different role, one that is a little bit more defensive,” Vermes said. “That’s because he is really the heart and soul of the team. If he comes and brings that consistently each game, it becomes infectious with the rest of the guys.”

Sinovic out, Rocastle available

Seth Sinovic impressed in his first two appearances with Sporting, but Vermes said the defender wouldn’t be available this weekend against TFC.

After starting consecutive games at left back following Roger Espinoza’s call-up to the Honduran national team for this month’s Gold Cup, Sinovic was forced off at halftime against the Rapids after tweaking his hamstring. He did not participate in full training this week.

Rocastle, on the other hand, will be available. The Grenada midfielder was expected to join the Spice Boys prior to this weekend’s match against TFC but will not depart for that country’s Gold Cup preparations until after the match.

Colley back but no signing imminent

Omar Colley is back in Kansas City, but Vermes said the young Gambian defender’s return doesn’t mean the club has any intentions to sign him at this time.

Colley impressed during a trial last summer and rejoined the team for preseason this spring, sticking around while Sporting tried to negotiate his release from Gambian club Wallidan. An agreement was never reached and Colley returned home before reappearing last week in training and playing in Sunday’s reserve match in Colorado.

“Omar found himself back here,” Vermes said. “He’s not going to be a guy that we’re picking up right now. The kid has a lot of gumption. His club hasn’t released him, but he got on a plane here anyway because he wants to play here so badly. We need some extra guys to train sometimes so he’s been here the last couple days.”