Band finally back together in Kansas City as Matt Besler, Graham Zusi set to start vs. Montreal Impact
This was supposed to be the weekend that Sporting Kansas City were back to full strength – well, as full as they were going to get, after a season-long rash of injuries and international absences and the sale of Uri Rosell to Sporting Clube de Portugal last month.
Instead, they're dealing with one more injury – this time, a broken bone in keeper Eric Kronberg's left hand – going into Saturday's away date with the Montreal Impact (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). And while Sporting have a veteran backup in Andy Gruenebaum, it's just one more challenge for manager Peter Vermes as Sporting try to repeat their run to the 2013 MLS Cup title.
“There's been a lot of challenges,” Vermes said on Thursday, during the club's weekly news conference. “But at the same time, there's been a lot of challenges for the players, and I think that they've handled it really well.”
And while the constant roster turmoil – which includes season-ending injuries to right back Chance Myers and center back Ike Opara – has meant a lot of cobbled-together lineups, Vermes said it also has been good for Sporting in one respect.
“The positive is that we've had a chance to really evaluate a lot of guys in true MLS games that normally we wouldn't get that opportunity, because if the regulars are always around and playing, then those guys aren't seeing the field," he said. "And now we're getting a chance to really look at our roster and evaluate guys where they should be evaluated – in high-level games.”
And, Vermes said, working the three starters back into the formation – especially Besler and Zusi, who have been gone the longest – presents its own sort of challenge.
“The tough thing now is getting the continuity between the players, he said. “They've been gone. There's guys coming back from injury. We've kind of got a group of guys now that we can select a roster from. So it's really a matter of getting some continuity now – not only with the lineup, but also those guys getting comfortably back to the way that we play.”
Dovale is coming off two-match league suspension for the red card he received against Houston on June 6, although he played in both of Sporting's U.S. Open Cup matches during that forced time off.
Besler, who did not play in Sunday's 1-1 draw with Chicago, and Zusi, who came on as a second-half sub, will start for Kansas City for the first time since Sporting's 2-1 home loss to Philadelphia on May 14. That was their last match with Sporting before departing for US national team duty at the World Cup.
That also was the last time that Sporting's All-Star center back tandem of Besler and Aurelien Collin played together. Since then, Vermes has used a succession of combinations in central defense, including an all-Homegrown duo of transplanted fullback Kevin Ellis and 17-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown.
Collin, who has had his own injury issues this year with a nagging hamstring strain, is looking forward to teaming up with Besler once again.
“All the team is very happy to have Besler and Zusi back, and I'm happy too,” he said later in Thursday's news conference. We have been playing together for a long time.”
And over those three-plus seasons together, Collin said, he has seen Besler grow into a star who could compete on the world's biggest stage – and, in the process, spark intensive speculation that he might be sold to a European club during the summer transfer window.
“What he showed during the World Cup was a lot of experience,” Collin said. “Honestly, he was exactly the same – with Sporting Kansas City, he played exactly the same. So I was very glad to see him have great games against the best strikers in the world.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.