Sporting's Warzycha adapting to new home in defense

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After knee surgery wiped out his rookie season, Konrad Warzycha had hoped to contend for playing time this year in Sporting Kansas City’s talented midfield.

His move to the senior squad is on hold once more, though, as he learns a new position. Manager Peter Vermes, a striker-turned-defender during his playing days, sees far more upside at center back for Warzycha.

“My gut has been telling me that would be a great position for him,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com late in Tuesday night’s 2-2 Reserve League draw with FC Dallas. “I think he’s got a lot of qualities, physically as well as the way he plays by having the game in front of him, and I also think he’s fantastic in the air.”

At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Vermes said Warzycha has the body frame to handle the position as well as the technical qualities to thrive on the backline.

Fortunately, Warzycha has played the position before, but not since halftime included orange slices and postgame activities centered on a cooler full of team beverages and snacks.

“My first position was center back,” he said after Tuesday’s match, “but that was the U-10s or something. It’s been a while.”

Having played for so long as an attacking mid, Warzycha was surprised when Vermes asked him to make the move back.

“I thought he was kidding at first,” he said. “It started off as a joke, and then he started to make it more serious. But when someone who was Defender of the Year at center back comes up to you and says, ‘We want to play you at center back and we see potential in you,’ you kind of have to agree with it.”

Warzycha has earned high marks for his willingness to embrace the switch, Vermes said.

“When you get a guy who’s played one position and you move him to the other side of the field, it’s attitude first and foremost,” he said. “Konrad has a good attitude, a great attitude. He’s accepted the opportunity in front of him, and that part’s been great. The other good thing is that every game, we’ve told him something else, and he’s gotten better with that.”

Still, Vermes has no timetable for Warzycha to be ready for the 18 in a top-level match.

“It’s really going to be how he progresses,” he said. “The great thing is that he’s getting these games right now, which I think are great games for him to get.”

While Warzycha is learning the position, he has the benefit of training alongside Matt Besler and Aurélien Collin – arguably the top center back tandem in MLS right now. And although he’s working on developing his own style of play, he wouldn’t mind picking up aspects of each defender’s game.

Warzycha’s wish list: “Collin’s awareness around the goal, always being able to win the header. Besler’s positioning. He’s always in the right position, never gets caught out.  If I pick up those things from each of them, I’ll be good.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.