KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Paulo Nagamura’s up-and-down season is back on the upswing.
First, the Sporting KC midfielder was slowed by calf soreness to start the year. Then, after seeing his playing time increase, he was sidelined for a month with a groin strain.
But since returning from that latest setback, Nagamura has started Sporting’s last two matches at the defensive midfield spot and looks to play a significant role as the club pushes through its crowded midsummer schedule.
“I feel great,” Nagamura told MLSsoccer.com after Monday’s training session. “It’s hard when you come back from a month of no games, but I feel good.”
After the groin injury kept him out of the squad for four straight league matches, Nagamura’s transition back into the lineup was anything but gradual.
He went 86 minutes in last Wednesday’s 3-1 victory at Montreal, his first match back. Then he turned in a solid full-90 effort on Saturday as Sporting shut down Houston’s dangerous set-piece game in a scoreless home draw that moved them back into a tie for first in the Eastern Conference.
“He was good tonight,” manager Peter Vermes said in the postgame news conference. “Paulo, Roger [Espinoza] and [Graham] Zusi did a really good job of rotating in the middle. I thought that they dealt with space very well. He is starting to get his form a little bit, but it takes games. Sometimes you hope it is going to come faster, but he’s starting to get his form back. He was able to play a solid 90 minutes tonight and his calmness and ball distribution is good.”
The start against the Dynamo was Nagamura’s 11th league appearance of the season, matching his total from an injury-plagued 2011 season with Chivas USA. He also started and scored Sporting’s first goal when they opened US Open Cup play with a 3-2 win over Orlando City.
“It has been a process since the beginning of the year, and it keeps getting better and better,” Nagamura said on Monday. “Right now I feel very comfortable with the guys in the middle. I feel we have a very good understanding of how we want to play. It’s great to have that connection with players, and with more time it’s going to keep getting better.”
And with Espinoza set to leave for Olympic duty with Honduras at mid-month, the starts could keep coming for Nagamura – albeit in a slightly different role.
“If Peter decides to put me in that position, I’ll be ready,” Nagamura said of occupying Espinoza’s box-to-box spot. “Hopefully, I can do the same job that Roger has been doing. He does a great job at that position.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.