KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The first 10,000 fans who make their way into Livestrong Sporting Park on Wednesday night will receive an Omar Bravo bobblehead.
Unfortunately, the Mexican’s bobbing plastic head and frozen caricature will be the closest anyone in attendance will get to actually seeing Bravo take the field.
But while Sporting Kansas City’s marquee player may be suspended for the match against the Portland Timbers (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) because of a red card against Seattle a week-and-a-half ago, but that doesn’t mean Sporting are panicking without their leading scorer.
Far from it, in fact.
“It’s happened before,” forward Kei Kamara said. “It would be nice to have him on the field, but we still have to do our job.”
This is Bravo’s second red card suspension of the season, with the first coming against the Vancouver Whitecaps just three games into the 2011 campaign. He also missed five matches during April and May as he recovered from sports hernia surgery.
Sporting may have lost four out of those five games, but that slide also occurred during their epic road trip when nothing at all seemed to be going right. On the flip side, they dominated FC Dallas 4-1 without their Designated Player, and it isn’t as though Bravo is leaned on exclusively for production as it is.
He may technically be tied with Kamara for the team lead with six goals, but six SKC players have at least three tallies this season and 11 overall have found the back of the net.
“Teams who scout us don’t really know who to stick with,” said midfielder Roger Espinoza, who is coming off his own red card suspension. “You see some other teams that just have one forward and if you keep him away from goal, the team is shut down. On our team, a lot of players have come through as the season’s gone on and everybody is scoring.”
According to manager Peter Vermes, the diffusion of the scoring load comes down to style of play.
Sporting have players capable of putting up double-digit scoring seasons — Teal Bunbury, Bravo and Kamara just to name three — but their formation, pressing style and interchange in the attacking third means just about anyone could find themselves on the end of the final ball.
“It really has to do with the way we play as opposed to certain guys being in form,” Vermes said. “We have a lot of different guys coming from different areas at different times. It’s those combinations on the field that have a lot to do with it.”
With Bravo unavailable, the most likely options on the forward line will be to either bring Bunbury into the middle and move rookie C.J. Sapong to the left flank or simply have Graham Zusi replace Bravo with Sapong staying in the middle.
No matter what Vermes ends up going with, Kamara, who is perhaps the team’s hottest hand at the moment with three goals in his last four games, said he has faith Sporting will continue scoring by committee against the Timbers.
“People are getting confidence and getting in front of goal,” he said. “Then when they get in front of goal, you can depend on them to put the ball in the back of the net. You can’t just focus on this guy or this guy. It’s an advantage for us.”