Peter Vermes' Dilemma: Will shorthanded Sporting KC play Lawrence Olum in midfield, or defense?
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Lawrence Olum is available once more for Sporting Kansas City. But where is the newly-minted Kenyan international most needed as his club tries to break a five-match winless string?
Will he return to action in Sporting's back line, where he was already expected to be a regular starter while Matt Besler is on World Cup duty? Or, as the top backup to Uri Rosell in defensive midfield, will he take over there after Rosell's sale to Sporting Clube de Portugal earlier this week?
Olum's low-key response: He'll play where he's needed, and he's ready to be the first choice wherever that might be.
“I've been playing here and there, different positions,” he told reporters on Wednesday, “but the way the team is going right now, it's my turn to get in there and do it consistently.”
Sporting's first three center backs are unavailable for Friday's match at Houston (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), with Aurelien Collin nursing a persistent hamstring tweak and Ike Opara out for the season after ankle surgery. But 17-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown and converted fullback Kevin Ellis played well together in last weekend's 1-0 loss at D.C. United, and Sporting could use a natural D-mid who can also drop back to help in central defense.
Manager Peter Vermes, playing things close to the vest as usual, told reporters on Wednesday that Olum could see duty at either spot and should be available for Friday's match. Vermes' most telling moment might have come a day earlier, though, when discussing Rosell's midseason transfer to the storied Lisbon side.
Asked whether his club would have to shop for a possession- and distribution-oriented replacement for Rosell during the summer transfer window, Vermes said his club already had one who has been tested in big matches.
“I think Lo can play that position very well,” Vermes said. “Look, in two years, Lo's played in two finals for us, and we've won both finals. That's pretty good stats for a guy who comes in at times and has to fill a role. He can do it in two different positions.”
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On Wednesday, Vermes further outlined Olum's strengths in the defensive midfield.
“He's calm on the ball,” Vermes said. “He's good on the ball. He's also another guy that's big and can help us on set pieces and things like that, so he's a little different from Uri in that respect. Uri never was a big guy for set pieces, so Lo gives you a little more of that, and in the run of play, he covers a lot more ground. He's got a lot of good passing abilities. Technically, he's very good.”
Olum played 120 minutes in Sporting's US Open Cup title victory in 2012 and all but the first seven minutes of their MLS Cup shootout win last season. “This is nothing” after that sort of pressure, he said this week.
“Every day you step on the field, there's always pressure,” he added. “It might be played out more now, because of the way the results have been going, but to me it's not different. It's just a matter of us doing what we've been doing before the last few games.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.