KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Julio Cesar was already penciled in for a break. Now, Sporting Kansas City have little choice but to give their veteran defensive midfielder a game off – and maybe more.
Julio Cesar will likely miss Wednesday’s match at Vancouver (10 pm ET; watch LIVE online) with a strained right hamstring, manager Peter Vermes said after Monday’s training session, but could be available for Saturday’s match at Portland.
The Brazilian pulled up lame just six minutes into the second half of Saturday’s 1-0 home win against Real Salt Lake.
“Obviously, he’s an important guy for the team,” Vermes said during the postgame news conference. “But at the same time – as I’ve told you guys millions of times – the biggest thing for me when we have muscle injuries, we need to shut a guy down and make sure he’s 100 percent before we bring him back out.”
The most likely candidate to replace Julio Cesar against Vancouver is Paulo Nagamura, who came in for him on Saturday and was steady throughout the second half. However, Vermes said reserve defender Lawrence Olum could get his first start if Sporting decide to go tall against the Whitecaps. Olum stands 6-foot-2, half a foot taller than Nagamura.
Nagamura, acquired in the offseason from Chivas USA, has been working his way back from a nagging calf strain and has played 85 minutes off the bench in four matches. Olum has 32 minutes in two appearances as a sub.
Nagamura is the only candidate with experience as an MLS starter, having made 144 career first-XI appearances with LA, Toronto and Chivas. In addition to his improved match fitness, he showed in his long relief stint against RSL that he is becoming comfortable with Sporting’s system.
“Every day it’s getting better and better,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. “If I get the call this week, I’ll be ready to go.”
This will be only the second lineup change for Vermes’ club this year: Teal Bunbury started up top in the season opener, but C.J. Sapong has held the spot since then after Bunbury’s Olympic qualifying absence.
With KC playing three matches in a span of eight days, Vermes said other players could get a rest on Wednesday ahead of the weekend matchup against the struggling Timbers.
As to who those players might be?
“I don’t know yet,” he said on Monday. “The only thing I’ve done so far is looked at Vancouver and tried to get a breakdown on their team and what they do well, so I’ll be trying to think over the next two days what will be the best situation going forward.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.