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Sporting KC beginning to fill void behind Collin, Besler

TUCSON, Ariz. – If 2011 is any indication, it’s a pretty safe bet that Sporting Kansas City’s center back duo of Matt Besler and Aurélien Collin will cause plenty of frustration among opposing attacking players this season.

The bigger question in Kansas City, though, is who exactly will step up should either of manager Peter Vermes’ first-choice pairing be unavailable through injury or suspension?

The answer to that question is starting to come together as Sporting KC transition from preseason preparations in Arizona – which wrapped up Tuesday with a rain-soaked tilt against local PDL side FC Tucson – to a stint in Orlando for the Disney Pro Soccer Classic.

As it stands, it appears the center back depth will come from Kenyan Lawrence Olum, who was signed last September after a successful season with Orlando City, and draft picks Cyprian Hedrick and Stefan Antonijević. Daneil Cyrus is also in the mix, but is currently away from the team on personal leave. Brazilian Júlio César can also drop deeper from him midfield position if need be as well.

The Cameroon-born Hedrick was selected by Sporting as the 30th overall pick in this year’s SuperDraft after playing four years at Coastal Carolina. All business in camp thus far, Hedrick has shown potential with the ball at his feet and a knack for winning the ball in the air, although he admits that he’s still got some learning to do before he secures a spot on the squad.

“Obviously, we have a long way to go,” he told MLSsoccer.com following Sporting’s 5-1 victory against FC Tucson. “We’re going to try to learn from these guys that are ahead of us so when we need to step in and help we are ready.”

Antonijević is a fellow draftee, taken by Sporting in the first round of the Supplemental Draft, and brings size – he stands 6-foot-6 – and technical prowess to the center back position. He started all 20 games for Valparaiso during his season season as a defender after previously playing in the midfield.

“I’m in a good position for any college kid coming into this level,” Antonijević said, “It’s a learning experience to be behind Collin and Besler. I’m looking to learn a lot from them.”

Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes had praise for the progress of both players, neither of which has yet signed with the team. Both Olum and Cyrus are currently under contract.

“Cyprian has really come along quickly,” Vermes said. “He’s someone that has really impressed us. Stefan hasn’t hurt himself, but we just need to see him a bit more. It’s been a good tandem for right now. We just need to see a bit more of what Stefan can do.”