KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s been a full five months since Ryan Smith last played a competitive game — a brief sabbatical by normal standards, but it likely seemed like lifetime for the midfielder.
After fighting through what seemed like setback after setback following knee surgery last winter, Smith finally appears to be in line for his first appearance of 2011 on Saturday against the New England Revolution (7:30 p.m. ET; MatchDay Live, Direct Kick).
“[I’m] excited, but it’s a little bit daunting,” Smith said. “I haven’t played since October. It’s something I’ve got to get used to again, but overall I’m excited. We need three points this weekend, and that’s the main goal. If I’m needed, I’ll be contributing to that.”
And if Smith does make it onto the field at Gillette Stadium, it will almost certainly be as a substitute.
Though the winger has been training with the full squad for the better part of three weeks without any serious issues, Sporting manager Peter Vermes is determined to move his leading assist man from a year ago along slowly to prevent any more setbacks.
Adding to the cautious approach is the artificial surface in New England, which Smith said he wasn’t worried about but is generally acknowledged to increase stress on the legs.
“I feel pretty good about him traveling with us this week,” Vermes said. “He’s definitely not in the position that he’s ready to start but could see some minutes if the game presents the opportunity.”
Even though Kansas City had been scoring goals at a prodigious pace until losing 1-0 last weekend in Columbus, Smith’s technical ability on the ball, weaving runs and ability to pick out a final pass will bring plenty of creativity and variety to an attack that has relied on three fairly similar players recently in Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury.
Smith played mostly on the left wing last season alongside Bunbury and Kamara but has seen time in training on the right flank, giving him more license to roam inside on his stronger foot and look for his own shot. It remains to be seen if Smith will play this weekend, but if he does, Sporting will have another unique attacking threat to throw at opposing defenses.
“It’s not just creativity,” Vermes said. “I think it’s the danger he brings and the focus other teams need to put on him kind of takes them out of their game.”
Collin likely to make first start for Sporting
Another player who is slated to make his first appearance in Sporting blue this season is Aurelien Collin, who received his International Transfer Certificate (ITC) this week after being signed just before the winter transfer window closed last Friday.
With fellow center back Julio Cesar suspended after receiving a red card last weekend against Columbus, Collin trained with the first-choice back line this week as he prepares to play his first competitive game since January when he was still with Vitoria Setubal.
All in all, the timing couldn’t be better for Sporting.
“It’s a big plus,” Vermes said. “His deal went all the way to about four minutes until the close of that window. Getting that deal done was imperative. Obviously, this week it’s being rewarded because of what happened with [Cesar].”
Though he isn’t guaranteed to start as Vermes chooses between Matt Besler, Shavar Thomas and Collin, Kansas City’s manager made it clear that getting the club’s newest acquisition time on the field would be a priority.
“He’s got to get some minutes based on getting a look at what the league is like and actually experiencing it,” Vermes said.