KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Peter Vermes is always quick to praise his players after a good result – and, more often than not, to defend them after a less-than-satisfying one.
Not this time. Not following this loss. Not after Sporting Kansas City's manager watched his back line get torched three times on three counterattacks in a span of less than eight minutes in Saturday night's 3-0 loss to D.C. United.
“D.C. was good on three counters, which our back four was absolutely horrendous on,” Vermes said in his postmatch news conference, after United took away the Eastern Conference lead from his club. “It's one of those days where they came down on three routine plays, and they scored three goals, and from that point on – they should have scored six, maybe, with the number of chances that we gave them because of the way that we were organized in the back.”
Sporting's back line – anchored by MLS All-Star center backs Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin and with veteran Seth Sinovic at left back – has long been a strength of the club, even after a season-ending Achilles injury to right back Chance Myers forced 19-year-old Igor Juliao into a starting role.
“There's been a lot of credit given to our back four over a long period of time,” Vermes said. “But the way that they performed tonight, they also are going to get some credit, too – and that's for giving up three goals.
“Igor, I give him a bit of a pass, because he's 19 years old and he's been thrown into the fire and he's played a lot of games over a short period of time,” Vermes went on. “But the number of goals that we've given up in our place, and the way we gave them up – and we've done this a couple of times now, not a number of them, but different counterattack-type goals like this.”
Besler, Sporting's first-year captain, seemed slightly taken aback when told of Vermes' criticisms of the back line.
“I'm not going to stand here and get into tactics too much,” Besler told reporters. “We gave up three goals. We gave up three breakaways at home, and it's unacceptable.”
And while Ike Opara's season-ending ankle injury has left Sporting without their top backup in central defense, Vermes said he wouldn't hesitate to shake up his back four – this time voluntarily, without the pressure of injuries and international absence that marked the first half of the season – if need be.
“I don't know if it's games off because of tiredness,” he said. “It's games off because of performance. If the guys aren't playing well, they're not going to play.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.