Heading into 2019, Sporting Kansas City were lauded for impressive depth, both in quantity and quality.
Sporting had a backup midfield trio which would be a formidable group on their own as well as a panoply of Homegrown talents hoping to force head coach Peter Vermes to give them a chance. With cover at every position, their second choice XI looked one of the best in MLS.
The club will stay strong no matter how many nagging injuries are picked up, which seem to be the price of admission for a long Concacaf Champions League run, we all prophesized. Sporting would even survive a similar injury apocalypse that Toronto FC unluckily stumbled into last season, however unlikely that scenario repeating itself may be, we assumed.
Well, that scenario is just about here.
Matt Besler (2-4 weeks), Roger Espinoza (2-3 months) and Rodney Wallace (4-5 months) join Jaylin Lindsey (3-4 more months), Erik Hurtado (1-2 more months) and Jimmy Medranda (2-3 more months) on the long-term injured list, while Andreu Fontas and Gedion Zelalem are listed as questionable. To boot, phenom Gianluca Busio will be on international duty with the US U-17 squad at the Concacaf Championship from May 1-16, missing at least two matches.
Now what for Sporting? That depth Vermes and co. prepared the squad with will be tested in a big way.
The absences of Besler and Espinoza will be felt hardest, as both have been near automatic selections to the club's starting XI for years. Let's start with Besler.
Botond Barath and Fontas are the likely partnership in defense if both are fit, though Fontas wasn't in the squad for the club's 4-1 loss to San Jose on Saturday. Abdul Rwatubyaye replaced Besler on Saturday night when the captain exited injured, the Rwandan international making his MLS debut.
There are questions, of course. Barath has been solid since joining this offseason, but three of his starts have been alongside Besler. Fontas, too, but his greatest strength is in possession. Besler helped balance the pairing. Barath and Fontas started together against FC Cincinnati and earned a 1-1 draw. Will they find quick chemistry together and is Rwatubyaye ready for meaningful MLS minutes?
As for the midfield, one of Kelyn Rowe or Busio are most likely to jump into the starting XI. Their presence should accentuate the already strong attack, but raises questions in defense. Below is where San Jose's three assists were played from on Saturday.
With Espinoza out 2-3 months, Vermes can fill the void with multiple players. Behind Rowe and Busio, former US youth international Zelalem and Homegrown Wan Kuzain can slot in. Espinoza's defensive contributions and work-rate are invaluable to the team, but in a similar amount of minutes in 2019, Rowe actually has won just one fewer tackle while regaining possession more often, per Opta. Can he keep it up in extended time?
Ilie Sanchez will help keep familiarity in the team's spine, as the Spaniard has started 74 of a possible 75 MLS matches since joining the club in 2017.
The other injuries give Vermes fewer options. Without Hurtado, Krisztian Nemeth will have to play almost all the minutes at center forward. Ditto for 32-year-old fullbacks Graham Zusi and Seth Sinovic without Lindsey and Wallace, though Nico Hasler recently joined to obviate the risk at right back while Yohan Croizet has filled in with little success at an unfamiliar left back role.
As for some good news? The club play just one midweek match until the Gold Cup break between June 7-23, meaning Vermes won't be forced to rely on squad rotation.