The 2010 season was rather kind to Sporting Kansas City (then known as the Wizards) in the sense that the injury bug was never a huge problem for the club at any point during the season. Sure, there were the usual individual injuries that kept a player out for a couple of games, but never did they mount up all at once. Oh, how things change in a year.
So much so that Sporting KC technical director/head coach Peter Vermes told the media Friday morning after practice, "that we have 17 guys traveling at the moment, and not 18. We started a lot higher (than 18) and as the week has gone, it's now down to 17." Vermes went on to talk about the different scenarios he is working through - between who can play 90 minutes, who could start and go 60, who needs to come off the bench to relieve someone for the final 30 minutes, etc. - to make a final decision on a Starting XI for Saturday's matchup against Chicago Fire.
The decision on a starting lineup will likely not come until mid-Saturday afternoon, ahead of the 3 p.m. CT kickoff. Sporting come into the game - game number two of a 10-game road trip to start the season - riding off a 3-2 season opening victory against Chivas USA last Saturday. Newly signed Designate Player Omar Bravo (who is among the walking wounded and a slight question to start against Chicago) scored two goals in his MLS debut on his way to MLS Player of the Week honors.
Chicago, on the other hand, took a single point in their season opening 1-1 draw against FC Dallas. Newly signed forward Diego Chaves scored the team's lone goal early in the first half. That game was played in Frisco's Pizza Hut Park, so Saturday against Kansas City will be the club's home opener for the 2011 MLS season.
Vermes will likely be forced into including a few players in the gameday 18 roster that would not otherwise make the trip for an away game. "Win, lose or draw, the fact of the matter is that the guys here that are going to go," Vermes said of the (hopefully) 18 players he will take to the Windy City, "they're going to get a good experience that they've never had before. Hopefully that experience will continue to benefit us as the season goes on."
A handful of key players that will definitively not be making the trip with the team are regular starting righback Michael Harrington (groin), backup centerback Shavar Thomas (international duty - Jamaica), often-key forwards Ryan Smith (knee) and Kei Kamara (international duty - Sierra Leone). Harrington spent much of the week doing conditioning work away from the rest of the team and hopes to return next weekend against Vancouver Whitecaps, while Smith is still '3-4 weeks away,' according to the player himself and Vermes.
With Thomas away on international duty, that leaves no true centerback on the bench for Vermes. Santos himself is a bit banged up, but will likely have to play, anyway. This all leads me to believe that Luke Sassano, who started at rightback last week against Chivas, will start the game on the bench as the backup center- and rightback, thus allowing Chance Myers, who came on in the second half for Sassano against Chivas, to make the start on the right.
The midfield is also a slight question, not only because of injury, but more so because there just aren't a ton of numbers in that part of the field right now. Craig Rocastle went off after 20 minutes against Chivas, but fully participated in practice all this past week. Stephane Auvray was set to go on international duty for his native Guadeloupe, but was a late scratch from that team, thankfully for Vermes' sake. Neither Milos Stojcev or captain Davy Arnaud showed any signs or gave word of any injuries.
Teal Bunbury is expected to make his season debut after dislocating his right elbow in a preseason exhibition, which kept him on the bench in the season opener. He has fully participated in practice the last two weeks, though. With Kamara trying to help his homeland qualify for next year's African Cup of Nations tournament, the squad of available forwards are also diminished.
Among the players that could get inclusion on the bench for Saturday's game (and maybe even be used as a substitue) are defenders Kevin Ellis, Mike Jones and Scott Lorenz, with Ellis and Lorenz possibly being able to play more advanced as somewhat midfield options on the right and left, respectively. Either way, Vermes certainly has his work cut out for him right now to piece together a Starting XI and full bench. It should serve as good practice, though, for later this summer when he could be without many of the same players, and more, due to the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Best-Guess Starting Lineups
Chicago: (3-5-2) Sean Johnson - Jalil Anibaba, Josip Mikulic, Cory Gibbs - Patrick Nyarko, Michael Videria, Logan Pause, Marco Pappa, Gonzalo Segares - Gaston Puerari, Diego Chaves
Kansas City: (4-3-3) Jimmy Nielsen - Chance Myers, Julio Cesar Santos, Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza - Stephane Auvray, Milos Stojcev, Davy Arnaud - C.J. Sapong, Teal Bunbury, Omar Bravo