It wasn't the debut Peter Vermes had planned for Erik Palmer-Brown, or the road result his club had hoped for. And if things were dire in central defense before, they could be even worse this week.
Still, Sporting Kansas City's manager found things to like both about the 17-year-old center back's first match – even though it ended four minutes after the hour, when Palmer-Brown picked up his second yellow card – and about Sporting's shorthanded 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire on Sunday.
Vermes especially liked his club's fight after Palmer-Brown was sent off, a surge that produced Dom Dwyer's header in the 68th minute to pull Sporting within a goal.
“I thought it was very good,” Vermes told reporters in a postmatch conference call. “The guys played with confidence, got into spaces, put them under pressure from the attack perspective, and we took chances like we had to because we were down a man. I thought we did a great job. We just didn't get the calls that we should have down the stretch.”
Sporting trailed 2-0 after the quarter-hour, on two penalty kicks from the Fire's Mike Magee. Vermes called both decisions “warranted,” but questioned why Kansas City weren't awarded a penalty when Alex Martinez went down in the box in the 79th minute after contact with Jeff Larentowicz.
“He does a stepover to get around the guy, the guy clips his foot, and we got no call,” Vermes said. “I don't know where the assessment was on that foul. I thought he was spot-on with the two against us in the first half, but he definitely missed one in the second half there.”
Palmer-Brown, who just turned 17 last month, became the youngest defender to start a match in MLS history. He was also Sporting's only natural center back available Sunday, because of injuries to Aurelien Collin and Ike Opara and international duty for Matt Besler and Lawrence Olum, so Vermes installed a 3-5-2 formation that pulled fullbacks Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic in close to help out on defense.
Despite the ejection, Vermes said the young Homegrown player showed why Sporting have been so high on him.
“Obviously, this was not the easiest of situations,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is what it is, and sometimes you get baptized by getting thrown into the fire. He did a little bit today. I thought in a lot of situations he was actually very good. But it was about him getting his debut. It put a lot of pressure on him today to have to come in and step in, and I thought he did a lot with the opportunity.”
Palmer-Brown will be suspended for Friday's home match against Toronto FC. With Opara out for the year and Besler and Olum still with their respective national teams, that will leave Sporting without a true center back if Collin can't return from a recurring hamstring strain.
“I'm not going to talk about the next game at this moment,” Vermes said. “I'll have to assess that as the week goes on. We've got a lot of days between now and then, and we'll figure something out.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.