For the last 31 days left in the year, we're going to be looking back at 31 different storylines from 2014 in Kansas City soccer. From Sporting KC's roller coaster season, to FC Kansas City and the Missouri Comets both winning their respective league championships, each day we'll have a different article looking back at one of the 31 most important stories in Kansas City soccer this year as we get ready for 2015 and everything it brings.
Sporting Kansas City's defense has been a huge part of their success the past few years. The stingy and consistent back line of Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic formed one of the best in the league, with Ike Opara and Lawrence Olum providing quality backup. The back four was definitely the strong suit of Sporting KC, so when it started to deteriorate in 2014, Sporting ran into some troubles later on.
It wouldn't reach crisis point until about mid-may, but the tremors started in late March. Backup centerback Ike Opara was involved in a collision with Colorado's Jared Watts that ended up causing him a chondral defect in his right ankle, ending his season. Just like that, Sporting lost their best defensive backup and Lawrence Olum moved forward in the depth chart. While the loss was big from a depth perspective, nobody knew just how bad the injury would be for Sporting Kansas City just a couple of months later.
The big hit came a couple of months later. Following a frustrating 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union at home, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi headed off to Brazil with the United States national team, leaving Sporting without one of its starting centerbacks. In that game, Uri Rosell picked up an injury and would never play again for Sporting KC as he was transferred to Sporting Lisbon a month later. His abilities as a centerback from his days with Barcelona certainly could have been used in later matches.
In that match, Aurelien Collin also picked up a hamstring strain that would leave him out of the lineup for a couple of matches. That left Lawrence Olum as the best centerback option going into the match at the Chicago Fire that weekend, but he got called up to represent the Kenyan national team just a couple of days before the match. At that point, there were five centerback options who were unavailable for that match. Only four defenders were available for the match, and one of them had just been called up from Oklahoma City in Kevin Ellis. Two of them were the starting fullbacks Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers, and one of them had never played an MLS minute in 17-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown.
Peter Vermes did what he could in that Chicago Fire match, playing a 3-5-2 instead of the 4-3-3 we have become accustomed to. Erik Palmer-Brown got the start in back alongside Myers and Sinovic. He ended up getting himself two yellow cards and a suspension for the next match in his debut, furthering the Sporting Kansas City application of Murphy's law.
For the next match, Sporting returned to a four-man back line with Chance Myers sliding over to centerback. He had been one at UCLA but not at Sporting KC. He was joined by Kevin Ellis in the center and Igor Juliao at right back. Seth Sinovic was the only starter playing his normal position. The universe continued to laugh at Sporting KC in this match when Chance Myers went down with a torn achilies in the first half, ending his season. This made Igor Juliao the primary right back and Sporting was down another man on their depth chart.
Aurelien Collin returned for a match against the New York Red Bulls, giving Sporting some better experience in the back line but that good fortune would not last for long. Collin left a match against DC United early after re-aggravating his hamstring, forcing Erik Palmer-Brown back into action at centerback. His performance this match was better, considering it was highly unlikely he could do worse than two yellow cards on his debut.
After righting the ship with a 2-0 win over Houston, Sporting was able to take a quick breather. Lawrence Olum returned from Kenya and Aurelien Collin was able to heal up his hamstring in time for Sporting KC to return to action after the World Cup break. They were rejoined by Matt Besler in July after his World Cup performance and Igor Juliao was starting to settle into his role as starting right back. He was still very green and making mistakes, but improving a little bit each game. At that point, it looked like Sporting might be okay for the rest of the season.
Exhaustion did take its toll as the season wore on, however. That is a story for another article, but Sporting did manage to maintain a semblance of a defensive depth chart for the rest of the season. They did lose Erik Palmer-Brown for the year after a season-ending injury in September, and there was also a fair share of goalkeeper injuries that forced Jon Kempin to start in August.
The season as a whole was not kind to Sporting Kansas City injury-wise but the defense was decimated. I would say 2015 can't possibly be worse for the defenders, but then again I said that multiple times in May and Murphy's Law always has something extra.