Dearth of available center-back options leave Sporting KC in bind ahead of TFC encounter

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Peter Vermes has been around the game for a long time, and this is a new one on Sporting Kansas City's manager: Five center backs on the roster to open the season and not one of them available for Friday night's home match against Toronto FC (8:30 pm ET, MLS Free Stream of the Week).

Vermes' plain assessment: “It's probably the most challenging thing we've ever faced, short-term.”

The struggles have already been well-documented: Ike Opara out for the year with an ankle injury, Matt Besler and Lawrence Olum on international duty, 17-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown serving a one-match suspension for the two yellow cards he picked up on Sunday in his professional debut, and Aurelien Collin all but ruled out for the TFC match because of a recurring hamstring strain.

“I don't know anybody in the league, I don't know any team – I've never experienced it as a player where there's been five, and every guy in that position is unavailable,” Vermes said on Thursday during the club's weekly news conference. “I've never been in that situation.”

Even so, he said, he believes in his club's ability to adjust and compete despite the roster gaps.

“We know that we have a challenge,” he said. “It's a challenge if we have our centerbacks. It's more of a challenge when we don't have our centerbacks. But it's part of what we do, and you've got to learn to adapt and adjust. It's not always going to work perfectly for you, but I think we've got guys that are up to the challenge.”

Sporting will also be without defensive midfielder Uri Rosell, who can play centerback in a pinch, because of a quad strain that also forced him to miss Sunday's 2-1 away loss to Chicago. With all that in mind, Vermes said another improvised 3-5-2 lineup could be in the offing against the Reds – and it could come out later in the year, even with Sporting at full strength.

“For sure, it's a possibility,” he said. “I actually think that we did pretty well, given the circumstances – the short period of time trying to work with it. I think it's great, because it gives us another look that we can use, whether it's now or throughout the season when we need to, if we see that it could be advantageous for us.”

“I'll be interested to see our team play a 3-5-2 when we have all of our guys available, because I think we have the makeup to be able to play that way.”

Vermes was the lone centerback in a 3-5-2 setup when the then-Wizards won their first MLS Cup in 2000, and he still occasionally dons a pinnie to join his current players in training play. Asked if he'd thought about suiting up again for real, Vermes only laughed.

“I wish,” he said. “If we played 10 minutes of bunkering in, if I could sit back on that back line, I could do a really good job of directing. Lateral movement would be very difficult, but anything up and back would not be too bad.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.