Ike Opara, Sporting Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Ike Opara and Roger Espinoza are training with Sporting Kansas City again – but has either of them come back from injury in time to make an impact in the postseason, or perhaps even down the regular-season stretch?


Manager Peter Vermes comes across as the most optimistic of the bunch, and even he can't say much more than a hopeful “maybe.”
“I am completely in the belief, at the moment, that both of them will be on the field this year,” Vermes told reporters on Wednesday, shortly before Sporting left town ahead of Friday's Western Conference matchup with San Jose (11 pm ET; UniMás). “When, I can't tell you. But I believe that they will be. As I see their progressions, it's better and better week after week.”
Espinoza, a veteran midfielder who began his second stint with Sporting this year after two years with English side Wigan Athletic, has been out since early August with a broken sesamoid bone in his left foot.


“I'm still not cutting 100 percent, but once you get the strength going – today's actually my first day of cutting like that,” Espinoza told reporters on Wednesday, after he took part in the first half of practice and then did side work with the club's training staff. “So first day always goes well, and second day is when you feel what's going on. So we'll see tomorrow what's going on, and we'll take it from there.”
Opara came back strong this year from a broken right ankle that ended his 2014 season – and was shaping up to be one of MLS' top central defenders this season, scoring two goals and showing a ferocious aerial presence, before he went down again this past March with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“I'm thinking that Roger's probably getting closer than Ike,” Vermes said, “but Ike was in an exercise the other day that if you came out here and didn't know our team, and I said to you, 'Pick the guy you think is injured out there,' you would never pick him.”
Like Espinoza, though. Opara is still working his way back into full training and has yet to get into serious contact situations with his teammates.
“It's always tough, but I've been through it,” Opara told reporters on Wednesday. “So I just take it day by day. It's so cliché, but there's times I've been injured, and I didn't take it day by day, and the frustration was near levels of I wanted to go out there and kill somebody, I felt like. But every day I find a new challenge, a new goal to accomplish, and good things have happened ever since.”
If both Opara and Espinoza can play again this year, how much better would Sporting be – perhaps elevated to leading-contender status for their second MLS Cup title in three years, and their first Cup double in team history after last month's US Open Cup triumph?
“I can't really answer that because I think it would be disrespectful for a bunch of guys that have done very well,” Vermes said. “And they're coming back having not played for a long time, and part of that is getting into a form. Forget about fitness for a second. It's also getting into form and your game.”


Even if neither is 90 minutes fit by the playoffs, though, Vermes could make serious use of both players.
“One of the things you could do with Ike is, you could bring him on late in a game and be an extra guy for aerial duels and things like that,” he said. “So he has a value in that respect. And in the midfield, it's the engine room. Guys are going to get tired, and to be able to have fresh legs and a guy with his experience is a different story.”
In the end, though, the only thing certain is that Sporting are still in a waiting game, and nobody knows how much time remains on the clock.
“Some of it is day-to-day with those guys,” Vermes said. “There was a day this week Roger had a bad day. Came back the next day, and it was the best day he ever had. So I can't tell you how they feel. It's hard to say, when they're at the point that they're at. It's not the injury anymore. It's all the other stuff. It's the rest of their bodies that they're getting back into the game and back into form.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.