KANSAS CITY, Mo. – They know the opponent. They know the record. They know the roster.
And … that’s pretty much it.
After a two-week layoff from MLS play, Sporting Kansas City are getting set to host a Toronto FC team that has the league’s worst point total (1-9-0, 3 points), but is suddenly a wild card after the removal of manager Aron Winter last week with Paul Mariner moving down from the front office to be his replacement.
“I know Paul really well,” manager Peter Vermes said Thursday during the team’s weekly news conference. “I’m sure that he’s going to bring a level of enthusiasm and excitement to the group.”
But what formation will Mariner put on the field for Saturday’s match at Livestrong Sporting Park?
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“It’s tough, because you don’t know what they’re going to play,” Vermes said. “They could play a 4-4-2. They could play a 4-5-1. They could play some variation of the 4-3-3.”
Consequently, training this week has focused less on the Reds and more on the team in Sporting Blue.
“I think it’s more important for us to concentrate and focus on what we’re going to be doing, not so much what they’re going to be doing,” Vermes said. “I think we have a pretty good idea about the different formations. We’ve kind of seen all of them already. It’s really going to be about us, and how we execute our performance. We have a good idea of who their players are, what their strengths and weaknesses are. That’s something our guys are pretty educated on.”
Sporting’s internal focus makes even more sense this week, as Vermes will be depending on several spot starters to execute his own game plan. Right winger Kei Kamara is still on international duty with Sierra Leone, left winger Bobby Convey is out with a calf strain and center back Matt Besler is recovering from an emergency appendectomy.
“In some respects, we’re sort of struggling to put 18 guys together,” Vermes said. “But whoever has to play, has to play. I say it all the time: One man’s absence is another man’s opportunity. So the way I see it, the guys who will be out there will have the chance to perform and execute. If they’re not, we have some other guys that will have to come in and take up that slack as well.”
Saturday’s match is the first of five in 14 days for Sporting, who sit third in the Eastern Conference with 25 points (8-3-1) but have three games in hand on leaders D.C. United (27 points) and two on second-place New York (26).
“We just have to take it one game at a time now, because of the number of injuries that we have,” Vermes said. “It would be a lot easier if we had the full complement of the roster. We could have easily mixed and matched the games, but we don’t have the luxury of doing that now.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.