Suspension, injury and international duty leave Sporting KC backline shorthanded once again
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Just when Sporting Kansas City thought they had achieved some backline stability, they've been hit with yet another triple blow.
Center back Matt Besler's return from World Cup duty with the US national team and Igor Julião's emergence at right back after Chance Myers' season-ending Achilles injury gave Sporting a regular back four of Julião, Aurelien Collin, Besler and left back Seth Sinovic.
But Besler will miss Friday's home match against Philadelphia (8 pm ET; NBCSN) after picking up two yellow cards in Saturday's 2-1 away win over Toronto FC – the first sending-off of his career – and Sinovic is questionable after coming out in the second half with a right groin strain.
“I don't know what it's going to be like on the weekend,” manager Peter Vermes told reporters after Tuesday's training session. “My thought process right now is that he's going to be out.”
Sinovic, who had started 20 of 21 games for Sporting this season, characterized his injury as “a little tweak.”
“It's just a lot of games this year, fatigue probably setting in a little bit,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “That sort of thing happens.”
On top of that, defensive midfielder Lawrence Olum – who has extensive experience in central defense – has been called up by Kenya for Sunday's second leg of an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying series against Lesotho.
“It's at a very inopportune time,” Vermes said. “From that point of view, it doesn't help us at all. I don't like it.”
There's nothing he can do about it but shuffle the backline again. And while he has several options, most of those involve someone playing out of his natural position.
Sporting still have one true central defender in 17-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown, who has three appearances and two starts this year and has looked stronger since a rough debut aginst Chicago in May. However, Vermes has found success using transplanted fullback Kevin Ellis in central defense, where he has twice earned MLS team of the week honors.
“I think the guys that will come in and play are guys that got experience when guys left for the World Cup and we had all those injuries,” said Ellis, who has played all four backline positions this year. “Like I said back then, when all those guys were playing and getting minutes, that's going to become valuable for our team in situations like this.”
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If Ellis moves inside, Friday's match could see winger Jacob Peterson – who came off the bench to score Saturday's match-winner against TFC – used at the left-back spot.
“We'll see what happens this weekend, but it's a position I'm comfortable playing,” Peterson said. “I've played right back in Toronto and a little bit in Colorado a few years ago, so it's nothing – especially in our system, where the outside backs get high – it's nothing too different.
"The defensive responsibilities are more, obviously. But the coaching staff makes sure that everybody understands every role, every job out there, and I think it's a credit to them.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.