Maybe it's time to retire the words “flux,” “turmoil”, and “depleted” from any talk about Sporting Kansas City's roster.
Oh, guys are still getting hurt, and going on international duty at inconvenient times – or just going home to Chile to deal with family issues, but the way Sporting are playing these days it doesn't seem to matter all that much.
Take Sunday night's 1-0 away win over Vancouver, the Western Conference tri-leaders and a club on their own hot run of form over the first half of the season. Manager Peter Vermes started rookies at both fullback spots – one making his first career MLS start – and keeper Tim Melia still recorded his sixth shutout in nine MLS starts since taking over for the departed Luis Marin.
“It says a lot about those guys,” Vermes told reporters in a conference call after Sporting closed to within two points of the West lead – with at least two games in hand on each of the five teams in front of them. “They have an ability to not only play, but also play in big games, and they've matured very quickly.”
Melia had some help getting the clean sheet, with one clearance off-the-line by midfielder Benny Feilhaber in the first half and another from rookie left back Amadou Dia in the second, but also came up big with five saves of his own – including a sprawling stop on Tim Parker in the 90th minute – to make Kevin Ellis' 52nd-minute header stand up as the match-winner.
“You can't say enough about a couple of saves that Tim made – huge, huge saves to keep us in the game and keep the shutout,” Vermes said. “Those were big, big points because of the team we played against. That's a very, very good team in this league right now, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for them.”
Even so, Vermes held out right back Chance Myers – who has worked his way back from last year's season-ending right Achilles rupture – because he didn't want to take any risks with Myers on the artificial surface at BC Place.
“It made it a lot easier on me, and probably him, to just keep him home,” Vermes said. “But he's fine. He's 100 percent. He's not injured or anything.”
With Jalil Anibaba now sidelined for up to six weeks by a quad injury, sustained in training this past week, rookie Saad Abdul-Salaam was given his first start for Sporting.
“I thought Saad was tremendous tonight in his first start for us,” Vermes said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Whitecaps midfielder) Kekuta Manneh, and he's a fantastic player, but Saad did a tremendous job – and he's not an easy player to play against. I think he's a very dangerous player in their team.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.