Sporting KC midfield suddenly cluttered as players return

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just a few weeks ago, Kansas City were scrimping along with barely enough players available for Peter Vermes to fill out a gameday roster.

These days, though, the question isn’t necessarily who will play but who won’t for Sporting as they prepare for Saturday’s game against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium. (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online)

Aurélien Collin and Davy Arnaud are back after extended absences. Jéferson, Birahim Diop and Milos Stojcev have shaken off niggling injuries. Craig Rocastle and Luke Sassano are both inching closer to their respective returns, though they’re not expected to appear against RSL. Plus, Peterson Joseph is in the fold now, adding another name to an already crowded midfield. 

“With everyone coming back, I look at the roster and the lineups and there is no way we’re going to get everyone on the field,” defender Matt Besler said. “It’s a bad problem for the guys that aren’t going to get on the field, but it’s a good problem to have as a team.”

Unlike some, Besler doesn’t have much to worry about. Most, if not all, that burgeoning depth at Vermes’ disposal is in the midfield and forward position, and the coach will have plenty of tough decisions to make in the coming weeks.

The most difficult will undoubtedly come in the center of the park, where Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza have been stalwarts this summer with an assortment of players rotating in to complete the trio. 

For now, Jéferson is the most likely to complete that triumvirate, but Collin’s return could push Júlio César back into a holding role in the midfield and only the foolish would bet on Arnaud being kept out of the lineup for long.

With so many players jockeying for spots, even one move is likely to trigger a domino effect.

Of course, it’s important to remember that Arnaud isn’t 90-minutes fit yet, and Jéferson is still meshing with his teammates, both of which will be considered when Vermes fills out his lineup on Saturday evening.

“If I could have all the guys available and they were all 100 percent, that would be a great position to be in,” Vermes said. “A lot of it will have to do with who is in form, which partnerships are working well together, and the final piece is how we match up against the opponent.”

What makes his job easier is the fact that Sporting have managed to be successful with just about any lineup Vermes has fielded since late May.

Much of that success has come without Arnaud, the team’s undisputed captain the moment he returns to the starting lineup. And even though he is champing at the bit to get back on the field, Arnaud admitted the fight for playing time can only benefit Kansas City as the season winds down.

“At the end of the day, that’s what makes good teams good,” he said. “Coaches have to have difficult decisions to make. That’s what has made us successful this year. They’re going to do what’s best for our team and what gives us the best chance to win every game.”