Sporting Kansas City's run in the 2016-2017 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League has been a complete flameout (and that's putting matters charitably), but there is perhaps one silver lining to the club's awfulness in continental play this season: there can be no doubt as to the meaning--or lack thereof--of their final CCL fixture this Wednesday at Children's Mercy Park against Central FC: there is none.
With absolutely no combination of circumstances possible for Sporting KC to make it out of group play in this year's CCL edition, Sporks manager Peter Vermes will not be the least bit tempted to use any of his preferred starting XI in a long-shot attempt to secure passage to the knockout rounds. Instead, he can once again utilize Swope Park Rangers players to provide crucial midweek depth while resting his own regulars.
...except that the SPR boys themselves have an important game coming up: the USL championship game this weekend against the New York Red Bulls II, which would mean a title in the Rangers' inaugural season and would act as a fitting way for Rangers gaffer Marc Dos Santos to ride off into the proverbial sunset as he prepares to take over the reins with the San Francisco Deltas in 2017.
In CCL games past, Vermes has called up SPR stalwarts like Amer Didic, Tyler Pasher, and Ualefi to start in CCL fixtures, but is that a luxury he can afford now with both sides looking at must-win games in the cause for silverware? Let's take a look, position by position:
Goalkeeper: Both Tim Melia and Alec Kann have spent time with SPR already this year, but in any case, Adrian Zendejas has established himself as SPR's first-choice keeper over Jon Kempin, so expect him to get the nod for SPR while Kann likely starts against Central FC on Wednesday to keep Melia--who had a solid outing against Real Salt Lake last weekend--fresh for the upcoming Quakes game.
Center Back: While it may be tempting to once again bring in a figure like Didic, Vermes at long last has all five of his SKC center backs (Matt Besler, Nuno Andre Coelho, Kevin Ellis, Lawrence Olum, and Ike Opara) healthy and fit at the same time, meaning that he could start one pair midweek and another on the weekend. With Besler and Ellis being the preferred pairing against RSL and earning a clean sheet in the process, I'm expecting some combination of Coelho/Olum/Opara to start on Wednesday in order to allow the SPR duo of Didic and Oumar Ballo to start the USL championship game.
Full Back: Here is where matters start to get a little tricky. Jimmy Medranda is certainly well-rested after having sat out against RSL due to yellow card accumulation, but deploying Sporting's breakout player in a meaningless midweek game is almost surely a waste, and Medranda's backup Seth Sinovic may not be fully recovered to go another 90 minutes on just two days' rest. My guess is summer signing Ever Alvarado gets the start at left back, while at right back, Vermes may well have to turn to an SPR hand like Johnny Grant in order to rest Saad Abdul-Salaam.
Central Midfield: The aforementioned Ualefi is almost certainly not an option to spell Soni Mustivar at defensive midfield due to injury, but both Nuno Andre Coelho and Lawrence Olum are capable of playing d-mid in a pinch, and it could be that one of them partners Ike Opara against Central FC while the other starts at the point of Sporting's central midfield triangle. Meanwhile, further forward in midfield, a game like Wednesday's would be the perfect opportunity to give new signing Benji Joya some important game minutes in a relatively low-pressure setting.
Wingers: Connor Hallisey is an easy answer to start at left wing in order to both rest Graham Zusi and avoid overextending SPR's Tyler Pasher (who can play both at left back and left wing), but what about Hallisey's opposite number? Jake Peterson was shelved over the weekend due to a hamstring strain, so 2016 acquisition Cameron Porter, who can play both winger and striker, may well be the answer (lolololol see what I did there?).
Striker: This one got a bit tougher after the awful news of Diego Rubio's season-ending (and almost certainly 2017 season-abbreviating) ACL tear in training this week. Risking Dom Dwyer simply is not an option, but without after Rubio, the cupboard gets bare in a big darned hurry. It largely comes down, I think, to how Vermes decides to deploy Cameron Porter--if Porter starts centrally, we may we see an SPR attacker called up anyways, whether Kris Tyrpak or Ayrton, to provide width, even if it means potentially damaging SPR's title chances, in order to avoid exposing either Dwyer or Zusi to injury before such a crucial game.
What do you think? If you were Manager For A Day, how would you solve Sporting's current depth dilemma?