Sporting Kansas City and their fans have been enjoying an amazing run this season that has led them all the way to the MLS Eastern Conference Finals this coming Sunday.
It's been an unforgettable turn of events for a club that was in last place in the East early in the summer. While the ride has been nothing short of astonishing, over the past couple of weeks I've noticed a trend in Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes' starting XI, that may signal the beginning of the end of a spectacular career in Kansas City soccer.
Of course, I'm talking about the absence of Sporting KC captain Davy Arnaud in the starting XI. Since the New York Red Bulls match on October 15th, we've seen Arnaud playing a different role for Sporting KC then what we've become accustomed to since 2003, Davy's second year with the club, and the year in which he started making an impact for Kansas City (of course, known as the Kansas City Wizards back then).
Over the past couple of weeks we've seen Vermes favor starting Roger Espinoza in the Sporting KC midfield alongside Graham Zusi, and Julio Cesar.
Arnaud came on in the 55th minute of the Red Bulls game, substitued in for Espinoza. A week later, when Sporting KC took on DC United in a 1-0 win, Arnaud once again came off the bench just after halftime for Roger.
Arnaud played only 21 minutes in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, a 2-0 win over the defending MLS Cup Champions, the Colorado Rapids.
In the second leg, Arnaud was substituted on after halftime, a game in which Sporting KC also won 2-0, advancing them to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Houston Dynamo this coming Sunday.
Maybe having Davy come off the bench is a strategic move by Vermes. Perhaps he wants Davy to come in during the second half to provide leadership in the latter stages of matches, to provide a calming influence for his teammates. Afterall, Roger is somewhat of a loose cannon out there. Roger, although a solid, promising player, has a tendency to make some bad decisions at times. If you've read some of my posts before, you know how I feel about Roger's penchant for flopping, and his occasional over-aggressive nature.
Or maybe, as I think, we may be seeing the beginning of a reduced role for Arnaud in general. Davy is 31 years old, an age in which most athletes start losing, or have already lost some of their physical abilities. Compare that to Espinoza, who is 25, and who is at the peak of his physical powers.
True, Davy definitely still has something left in the tank. Just watch the guy during a match. He runs around like he's a 20 year old. But it's also probably true that Arnaud's time as a big time contributor on a game-to-game basis is coming to an end. Or maybe those days are already just slightly behind us.