Ask someone to name one of the important parts of Sporting Kansas City's lineup and chances are the names Matt Besler, Dom Dwyer, Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi will be brought up at some point or another. All four have played an important role in Kansas City's success in the first half of the season that sees them on top of the Western Conference. Unfortunately Kansas City is going to have to find a way to get by without those four for the next few games as three of them are away with the US national team and will miss at least three games and likely a fourth should the US advance far enough in the Gold Cup. If Sporting can advance in the US Open Cup the trio would also miss the quarterfinal match up. A fourth (Feilhaber) is out for the immediate future after being injured in last week's win against the LA Galaxy. The big question will be how Peter Vermes will replace 36% of his regular starting 11 that has played the vast majority of the minutes for the club so far this season. Here's a look at the direction that Vermes could go with each player.
Matt Besler and Graham Zusi
This may be the hardest set of positions to replace because of how well Sporting's starting back four has played this season. Combined in the 14 games that the starting back four have played, Sporting has eight of their nine shutouts, have allowed just seven goals and gone 8-2-5 across all competitions. In the four games where at least one of the four have missed a game KC's defense has allowed five goals, recording just one shutout and going 1-2-1.
With that though, Besler's and Zusi's replacements seem fairly straight forward. For Besler it appears that Kevin Ellis is the likely replacement at center back. While many KC fans (including myself) will be shouting to give US U20 captain Erik Palmer-Brown time to establish himself, he is still returning from a thigh injury that he's had since returning from the U20 World Cup. With that though, Vermes still seems to favor the other homegrown defender in Ellis.
Replacing Zusi is a less controversial one as it appears that it will be last year's starting right back, Saad Abdul-Salaam getting the start in his place. Abdul-Salaam has started the last two games that Zusi missed (3-0 over Minnesota and 1-1 vs Montreal) and seems to have won the backup role from Igor Juliao after the latter’s disastrous performance earlier this year in Minnesota.
The last of the three national team players to replace, Dwyer's won't be easy to replace, but at the same time a change up top might not be bad. Dwyer has struggled to find the net lately, scoring just once since his brace against New York on May 3rd. A span of 10 games now with the only goal coming in the second half of KC's 4-0 win over Minnesota in the US Open Cup. Last week Vermes mentioned that he needed to get Diego Rubio up to speed with Dwyer likely to miss time, but Rubio has gotten 44 minutes in a game with Sporting and a game with Swope Park over the last week. On the surface he seems unlikely to be ready to start at center forward for the next couple games. That likely leaves Soony Saad as the primary option to start at center forward for Kansas City. While Latif Blessing is also an option I think his place will likely be elsewhere on the field with these four players out.
Saad has struggled a bit so far this season, having recorded just a single assist in nine appearances so far this year, though he did set up the own goal against San Jose with his shot eventually being turned into the goal by David Bingham. There are still questions about his ability to lead Kansas City's line with Dwyer absent though.
The wild card in absences in the near future is Feilhaber, Vermes just said he was out for the "immediate future" but don't be surprised if that immediate future stretches on for a few weeks before Feilhaber returns. Feilhaber's replacement seems straight forward as well, with Jimmy Medranda having played his position earlier this year when Feilhaber missed a pair of games with a thigh strain earlier this season and replacing Feilhaber in center midfield when he departed on Saturday night in LA.
That opens up the wing position opposite Gerso Fernandes that Medranda had started to claim for his own this season. That's where I think Blessing is going to see time at instead of center forward, filling in on the wing as Medranda slots into the center of midfield for Sporting KC. If Feilhaber’s injury isn’t as long term than Medranda slots into the wing with Blessing also getting time there in Medranda’s spot.
It will be interesting to see how Vermes balances his squad rotation now with so many regular starters out of the lineup. It is something he hasn't had to really deal with so far this season, but for the next few games it looks like Sporting's reserves, who haven't gotten much game action so far this year, will need to step up and fill the big shoes left by these four.