Graham Zusi a likely scratch against New York Red Bulls, Jimmy Nielsen set to return despite meningitis

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sporting Kansas City could be without two of their key players for this weekend's important Eastern Conference matchup against New York.

Midfielder Graham Zusi is listed as doubtful with a sore right quad, and goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen is coming off a recurrence of the meningitis that sidelined him for one match in 2011 – and put him in the hospital this time around.

Manager Peter Vermes said the club would continue to evaluate both players, but that Zusi – who pulled up in the 24th minute of Wednesday night's MLS All-Star game at Sporting Park – is not expected to play in Saturday's home match (6:30 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).

“It's still very similar to last night, just really tightened up,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com after Thursday's training session. “So it's just day-to-day. We don't know right now. But right now, I'm planning on that he's not going to be playing. That could change, but that's what I'm planning on.”

Zusi told reporters that he doesn't want to rush back, especially with Sporting scheduled for seven matches across all competitions in August and the US national back in World Cup qualifying action in September. But at the same time, he didn't rule out returning for Saturday's match against the Red Bulls, who are tied with Montreal for second in the East – just one point behind Kansas City.

“You don't want to come back too early from things, but who knows? Tomorrow it could be feeling great, or worse, or the same,” he said. “We're going day to day, getting a lot of treatment on it a couple of times a day. It's a busy month, that's for sure. You don't want to come back too early.”

Nielsen, who trained for the first time this week on Thursday, was hospitalized overnight on Sunday in Kansas City. He also revealed on Thursday that he has suffered migraine headaches since that first bout of meningitis in June 2011, and initially thought that's what was happening when he fell ill before last Saturday's 1-0 away loss to Montreal.

“I woke up Saturday morning in Montreal and thought I had one of my usual migraines. I went to the trainer and got a shot. It didn't really work. We had the game meeting, I prepared a little bit, and I could tell that this was a bad one. So when we came to the stadium, I had another shot, and it took the top off it. After the game, I had another shot.”

After a rough night on Saturday, Nielsen woke up still in pain on Sunday.

“Flying from Montreal, we had a layover in Chicago for a few hours,” he said. “That's where I realized I probably had meningitis again.”

A spinal tap later in the day confirmed his suspicions, and he stayed the night as a precaution after receiving treatment. He tried to return to training on Wednesday but was told to take another day to rest.

And once his current treatment cycle runs out next week, he said, he'll begin a lifelong medication regimen to prevent a recurrence.

Nielsen hasn't missed a league match, regular or postseason, since serving a red-card suspension for Sporting's 4-1 away win over FC Dallas on June 12, 2011. And he's not planning on sitting out against the Red Bulls, either.

“The most important in my life is my kids and my wife, of course,” he said. “After that, it's soccer.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.