KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Social media erupted with questions, speculation – and, on more than one occasion, outrage – when Sporting Kansas City announced its Starting XI on Friday night.
Was Aurelien Collin hurt? Sick? In the doghouse? With first place in the East and the chance to clinch a playoff spot on the line, why was center back Lawrence Olum starting instead of the MLS All-Star against the Chicago Fire?
After a steady outing from Olum and a 2-0 victory that sewed up a postseason berth for the East leaders, manager Peter Vermes had a simple answer:
Collin (an unused sub on Friday) was fine. Olum simply had earned a second straight start with his performance in last weekend's scoreless draw against Montreal.
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“We liked the way he played,” Vermes said. “We continued in the same vein. Obviously, another shutout tonight, so he's playing well.”
Olum, who has nine starts and 18 appearances this year, said he didn't feel any extra pressure on Friday despite the stakes and the Livestrong Sporting Park-record crowd of 21,010.
“The butterflies were from excitement,” he said. “I wasn't scared.”
After all, he'd already performed solidly in Sporting's biggest match so far this year: the US Open Cup final, when he went all 120 minutes in Sporting's shootout victory as Collin watched from the sidelines, suspended for yellow-card accumulation.
“I don't have anything to prove,” Olum said. “This just shows the confidence the coaches have in me. They know they can play me in any big game.”
And, he said, that's been true all year long.
“I've been dialed in all season,” he said. “The coaches told me they would use me, and I want to contribute every time I'm out there.”
Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen also had no qualms about Olum's start.
“He's very calm with the ball,” Nielsen said. “Never panics. He's very good playing the ball out of the back, he's very good in the back. It's a very, very good situation for a coach to have three good center backs. He proves, every time he gets thrown in there, that he can handle this level easily.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.