Sporting Kansas City lineup shuffle set to continue vs. Union with 22nd starting XI in 22 MLS matches
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The ratio is simple: 21 matches, 21 different lineups. When Sporting Kansas City announce their next XI, it's likely to be 22 in 22.
Sporting will be without Designated Player and club captain Matt Besler (red-card suspension) and defensive midfielder Lawrence Olum (international duty with Kenya) for Friday's home match against Philadelphia (8 pm ET, NBCSN, free stream on NBCSports.com). Midfielder Paulo Nagamura is still out with a lingering ankle injury, and left back Seth Sinovic is doubtful with a right groin strain.
In Olum's absence, manager Peter Vermes said that new Honduran acquisition Jorge Claros could see his first action against the Union.
“I'd say there's a good chance,” Vermes said on Thursday, during Sporting's weekly news conference. “Somewhere in the midfield, if he was. Absolutely.”
Despite that constant shuffle, the defending MLS Cup champions sit atop the Eastern Conference and are tied for the Supporters Shield lead heading into Friday night's home match against Philadelphia. But while Vermes has repeatedly acknowledged the challenges of dealing with international absences and a season-long fight with the injury bug, he doesn't like to claim credit for the club's success in the face of those struggles.
That humble approach hasn't kept some from suggesting he's a leading candidate for MLS Coach of the Year honors.
“I look at it more as the players' performance is good,” Vermes said. “I think I've said this to you before: I'm very proud of the fact that we've stayed extremely competitive with all of the challenges that we've had over the course of the season.
"You don't ever expect as a coach to have to deal with as many scenarios as we've had to deal with in this first half of the season. But given the fact that we have, I think that the players have performed extremely well, and it's great to see.”
Doesn't Vermes have a hand in that as well, though, in assembling competitive lineups and keeping everyone on the roster on the same strategic page?
“I would like to think that I do,” Vermes said. “Yeah, I would hope so. I'm a part of setting the culture here and all that other stuff. But I just don't look at it – I don't have any time to sit back and think about what I'm doing, other than evaluating if something is going right or wrong, and then keep going.”
The work of Vermes and his staff hasn't gone unnoticed by his players, though – especially those who have had to play multiple roles to help offset the roster instability.
“It's been incredible, I think,” said forward Jacob Peterson, who has also been used in the midfield this year and could find himself at fullback against the Union if Sinovic isn't available. “It's hard to see from afar if you're not in there, but the amount of work that the coaching staff puts in is really unrivaled in the league, maybe even around the world.
"They put in a lot of time, and they make sure that guys really understand our system and what it's about.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.