The coming four weeks are shaping up to be long and anxious for Sporting Kansas City's fans, with the news that goalkeeper Tim Melia will be out for anything from a fortnight to a month with a hamstring injury.
Are their fears for their club – and for Melia's shot at individual honors in what has been a monster season for the former MLS pool 'keeper – justified?
Maybe on the former front. The latter? No worries.
Even if Melia doesn't play another minute until the postseason, he's the only choice for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. In 30-plus matches (remember, he didn't concede the equalizer in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Minnesota United), Melia has conceded a mere 24 goals.
That's a 0.77 goals-against average. The next closest right now is Toronto FC's Alex Bono, with a 1.11 GAA in 27 games. So unless voters go on a glue-sniffing binge, the goalkeeping award is Melia's, full stop.
He'd be the first one to tell you, though, that individual accolades don't matter as much as team success. So, can Sporting be successful with someone else in goal?
The club's standard response is “next man up,” and the approach of not being dependent on any one player has paid off over the years, with four trophies added to the collection under manager Peter Vermes' leadership.
But does that hold true for the goalkeeping spot, the one position Vermes has long been loath to rotate (which is a likely reason Sporting have won three Lamar Hunt US Open Cup titles this decade)?
It's hard to draw any conclusions from backup Andrew Dykstra's recent track record, because aside from his appearance off the bench on Saturday, he doesn't have one with Sporting since being selected in the Re-Entry Draft before this season. His only prior competitive appearances of 2017: three starts with Swope Park Rangers, Sporting's USL side.
His career up to now has included a lot of bouncing back and forth between MLS and lower-division sides, with 14 league appearances for D.C. United from 2012-16 and 17 for the Chicago Fire in 2010, the only year in which he made 10 or more appearances in MLS action.
Then again, Dykstra might not be that next man up. Adrian Zendejas. who is signed to the senior club but has been SPR's No. 1 with 22 starts, has the minutes this year – and Vermes likes minutes. Zendejas (who is averaging 1.00 goals conceded in USL play) also has backed up Melia several times this year.
Zendejas is only 22, though, and has yet to make his MLS debut. Experience in the league will likely swing the start Dykstra's way, at least for Wednesday night's match at BBVA Compass Stadium.
First, the concern: Dykstra made one save during his 31-minute stint in Minnesota, but did concede Brent Kallman's late equalizer – on a header that hit him in the hands and deflected up into the net. It was a hard ball at close range, but he did get hands to it and you could argue that he should have kept it out.
That's especially important for a team that hasn't lit up the scoreboard a lot this season – and an equally valid concern is whether Dykstra can command Sporting's defense and distribute in match situations as well as Melia.
Now, the flip side.
Vermes, as both coach and technical director, picked Dykstra. He saw something in the perpetual backup to D.C.’s Bill Hamid (no disgrace, that), and saw enough of it to grab Dykstra out of the Re-Entry Draft – just as he saw something in Melia, who could never unseat Nick Rimando at Real Salt Lake or Dan Kennedy at now-defunct Chivas USA.
Also, Sporting still have the stingiest defense in the league, with a ridiculous (in the good way) 25 goals conceded in 31 matches – and that has never been all about Melia. As long as Sporting's veteran back line stays injury-free, and Ilie Sanchez continues to quietly be one of the league's best newcomers at the defensive midfield spot, and Roger Espinoza does his box-to-box harassment thing…
You see where this is headed?
Melia will be missed, and with good reason. But “next man up” worked for him when Luis Marin got homesick in the middle of the 2015 season. Dykstra deserves the same benefit of the doubt.
At least through Wednesday night.