Ailing SKC midfield plays waiting game ahead of opener

Graham Zusi and Adam Cristman

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One of Sporting Kansas City’s injured midfielders was back on the training pitch Tuesday, but another starter and a key substitute continue to be held out by nagging muscle soreness in the final week of preseason preparation.

Defensive midfielder Júlio César took part in drills and scrimmages, wearing a vest that exempted him from hard contact. But Graham Zusi was limited to jogging around the pitch, while new acquisition Paulo Nagamura did some light running and then rested his sore left calf.

Zusi, who earned his first two caps and scored his first goal for the US national team in the offseason, said he didn’t expect the tightness in his right quad to keep him out of Saturday’s season opener at D.C. United (7:30 pm ET, MLS Live).

Júlio César pulls one back against LA

“It’s nothing too bad,” he said. “I just don’t want to make it any worse. It’s a little frustrating, because you always want to be out with the out with the guys and playing, especially leading up to the first game of the season, but I want to be as sharp and fit as possible.”

And if Zusi isn’t ready for the D.C. game, manager Peter Vermes said, he won’t be asked to play hurt.

“It’s hard to tell right now, because it’s only Tuesday,” Vermes said. “But if he’s not ready for this week, then we’ll work to have him ready the following week. We’re not going to rush him out there.”

Besides, Vermes said, it’s not as though Zusi is the only one who can play at the right mid spot.

“We’ve got a ton of guys,” he said. “[Luke] Sassano can play there, Konrad [Warzycha] can play there, [Michael] Thomas can play there. It’s not going to be hard to find someone to play that spot.”

“Obviously, you always want to have everyone around,” Vermes added, “but I’ve always been of the belief that one man’s absence is another man’s opportunity.”

Nagamura, acquired from Chivas USA in a trade during the offseason, is expected to provide depth at all three midfield positions. He is coming off an injury plagued 2011 season, when a calf strain and right-foot injury limited him to six starts and 11 total appearances.

“It’s frustrating because my whole career long I have been pretty healthy until last year,” he said. “I don’t think this is that bad. Hopefully, it’s just muscle tightness.”

Júlio César, meanwhile, looked steady in drills and scrimmages on Tuesday.

“He’s coming along,” Vermes said of the Brazilian. “He’ll do a little extra fitness work as needed, but all in all he’s looking good. Hopefully, he’ll be sharp and healthy and available for the game.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com. Write to him at steve@artkc365.com.

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