KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Through their last three MLS playoff matches, Sporting Kansas City haven't had to make too many choices in the midfield. That's because a combination of injury, illness and Graham Zusi's return to the wing have left them with few bench options in the middle of the park.
That's expected to change for the MLS Cup final on Dec. 7 (4 pm ET, ESPN2, UniMas, TSN2, RDS), with defensive mid Lawrence Olum training again after missing those three matches with a displacement fracture of his left fibula.
Olum, who was hurt late in Sporting's 2-1 loss at New England in the first leg of the Eastern conference semifinal, took part in a full session on Tuesday but wore a grey neutral-player vest during small-side action.
“He's just getting back in the swing of things, but he already looks better today than he did on Saturday when we had training,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday's training. “It seemed he was running around kind of gingerly, and today it wasn't that way. Barring anything else, as long as his progression continues, I would say that it's been looking better for him to be available.”
Haitian midfielder Peterson Joseph, however, has been ruled out for the Cup as the club wait for results of a battery of medical tests stemming from his brief collapse during a training drill in late October.
“He's done for the season,” Vermes said. “He will not be ready. For all that the tests that they did, it'll be another two weeks before we know anything conclusive.”
Olum appeared in 20 games with nine starts during the regular season, playing a career-high 1,002 minutes and delivering his first MLS goal in the regular-season finale against Philadelphia – a score that ultimately secured home-field advantage for Sporting in the MLS Cup final against Real Salt Lake.
“I think his opportunities and chances, the last year or two, have been a little up and down,” center back Matt Besler said. “But it's a credit to him in that every tie he does get a chance, he takes advantage of it. He had a nice run of games for us the last 10 games of the season, and he was one of our most important players.”
Vermes does not discuss potential lineups, but he has put Olum and Uri Rosell – Sporting's first-choice defensive midfielder – in the XI together several times this season, both in MLS and in CONCACAF Champions League play.
But over the course of his absence. and with Paulo Nagamura's strong return from a naggging ankle injury that sidelined him down the regular-season stretch, Sporting have settled into a groove in the middle of the park: Rosell playing an interceptor's role in the back and also working to create opportunities in the attack; Benny Feilhaber distributing the ball into space and tracking back on defense; and Nagamura providing tireless ball-winning work as Vermes' designated “pit bull.”
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All three have been solid in those duties, but Vermes has also shown himself willing to make tactical lineup switches even when players are in form.
Olum, for his part, said he felt good after Tuesday's training and hoped to be available for the final.
“We're going to take it day by day, but as it feels right now, I feel good,” he said. “I'm looking to go. You always look to be in this type of game, whenever the team needs you.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.