Depth has been the mantra around Sporting KC for a while now. No big time signing this off-season but Vermes assembled a group of guys where he can be comfortable, if not extremely confident, about playing his reserves. It is only MLS Matchday 4 and his building for depth may already come in handy.
Roger Espinoza is out serving a red card suspension and Peter Vermes confirmed today that Matt Besler is out while he completes concussion protocol. Justin Mapp and Paulo Nagamura are the other two confirmed to be out. Ike Opara is very slowly being eased back into the mix, so he may not be available either. On top of the injuries, Graham Zusi and Soni Mustivar played matches for their respective international teams midweek. Sporting KC have been very cautious with everybody so far this season, so giving them more rest is indeed possible.
If analyzing who they may be without is glass half-empty, Peter Vermes prefers to look at it glass half-full.
"You know there's a lot of talk about which guys are going to be off the field but its more important who the guys are on the field," Vermes told media after training Friday. "Major League soccer is a league in which there is a lot of parity. Bottom line is that it is a very competitive league. It doesn't matter who is off the field; it matters who is on the field and that's where our focus is."
How optimistic of him, right? Probably.
But also probably a little professionalism from a manager responding to lineup questions without tipping his hand. Perhaps he likes all the questions about the lineup.
Zusi and Mustivar did just return from international duty, but that was all the way back on Tuesday. That's more than enough time to recover. Ike Opara was even taken off the injury report. Besler and Espinoza could end up being the only real absences.
That would provide a chance to keep Jordi on the field as you can slot him in for Espinoza. I have been waiting to see Benny and Jordi work together in a real game. Let me tell you, it is deadly. The three options to replace Besler are Ike Opara, Kevin Ellis and Lawrence Olum; likely in that order (could also see them reward a Ranger with a call up in front of Olum).
There is a really big BUT here.
After two straight years of injury woes and poor finishes to the season, they are being really careful with everyone. I watched Brad Davis assure Vermes he was good to go ahead of the home opener. He only played 13 minutes that match and then only came on as 2nd half sub a whole week later. Benny Feilhaber is another example of this. They were willing to play without their MVP for first three matches of the season. And good ol' Ike has seemingly been fulling training since November but hasn't been in the 18 once this season.
I'm not knocking it at all. I like it and I like all nine points that show it's working so far. I just mean that although Zusi, Opara and Mustivar should be ready, don't be surprised to see one or all of them open the game on the bench.
Another big thing to consider is that Sporting KC may end up facing what is basically Salt Lake's USL side. They are dealing with several injuries, multiple suspensions, and may be invoking the Extreme Hardship Rule to get some short term loans from USL.
PLUS... Sporting KC did recall Jimmy Medranda after an encouraging performance in the Swope Park Rangers inaugural match last weekend.
All that being said, Vermes could decide the reserves can get the win and choose to rest Mustivar sliding Lawrence Olum into his spot. Then he can give Medranda the start in the midfield to mix it up with Jordi or Benny! Even Diego Rubio is available. I'm not saying.. I'm just saying.
Lineup games are fun!
But Vermes reasserted that he only will focus on getting every single person prepared to face a tough side. When the time finally comes, he'll pick from what he has available. And he can be sure they are ready.
"Like I said it doesn't matter whose not in there. It just matters whose going to be out there. That's what we're focused on," Vermes explained. "That's the bottom line for the game. The rivalry is at the end of the day we both want to win. So that'll play out tomorrow night. It's going to be a competitive match I know they're going to come in here with everything they have. It doesn't matter whose not in their team... it's going to be a battle."
You can set your lineup over in the MLS Matchday 4 Primer. That's also where you can find everything from weather forecasts to referee assignments.
My predictions? I thought you'd never ask.
How about this:
Graham and Soni conince PV he'd be crazy to bench them. Sporting KC deal with the absences of Espinoza and Besler and they give a depleted Real Salt Lake side the business.
(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Amadou Dia, Nuno Andre Coelho, Kevin Ellis, Soni Mustivar, Jordi Quintilla, Benny Feilhaber, Brad Davis, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi
Sporting Kansas City 3 - 1 Real Salt Lake