KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sporting Kansas City’s depth is about to get its most stringent test so far this season.
Does manager Peter Vermes go with a full-strength roster in Sunday’s home match against San Jose (4:30 pm, NBC Sports Network; LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com), giving his club the best possible shot at beating MLS’ points leaders and ending a four-game winless streak?
Or, with only one day off between that match and hosting next week’s US Open Cup game against Orlando City, does Vermes hold back some starters against the Quakes so they’ll be fresh against the defending USL Pro champions?
NBCSN Preview: Sporting KC vs. San Jose
“That’s a difficult task for our guys,” Vermes said Friday, during the team’s weekly news conference. “Realistically, we’re going to have to play two separate teams for those two games. It makes it difficult on us, and we’re going to have to put guys on the bench who are just coming off, most likely, a 90-minute performance.”
In the past, Sporting have gone reserve-heavy in early-round Cup matches. But against Orlando, a third-tier side which Vermes called “the best lower-division team that I’ve seen in a long time,” Kansas City won’t have that luxury.
Hence, Vermes’ dilemma – especially with Sunday’s game being the last before the league’s two-week layoff for World Cup qualifiers. Lose or draw against San Jose, and Sporting won’t get another shot at three points until June 16 against woeful Toronto FC.
“We’d like to have a mixture of players in both games if possible,” Vermes said. “Sometimes it’s not easy. I’ll have to see where a few guys are physically. That’s a big thing for me to evaluate.”
Left winger Bobby Convey has been nursing a left calf strain that kept him out of training earlier this week, Vermes said – but the good news for Sporting is that midfielder Graham Zusi will be available after failing to make the cut for the US national team’s upcoming friendlies and qualifiers.
Even though Zusi has been gone all week, “It’s not like he went on vacation,” Vermes said. “He was training. I’ll talk to him, see where his head’s at. If he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go. I wouldn’t have a problem with that at all.”
Goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen seems a lock to start Sunday. So do right winger Kei Kamara and left attacking midfielder Roger Espinoza, both of whom depart Monday for international duty.
And after scoring his first two goals of the season in last week’s 2-2 draw at Colorado, Teal Bunbury has likely earned a second straight nod at center forward.
“It’s still up to the coaches,” Bunbury said. “But personally, yeah, I feel like I have.”
Nothing’s for certain, though, until Vermes announces his starting XI against the Quakes.
“Whoever’s on the field is going to have to be prepared to play,” he said. “That’s how we’ ve built this team, I think. We train that way. Everybody has to know their role and responsibility, and when they step on the field they have to know how to play within our system.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.