Sporting Kansas City will be forced into a change along their back line for the first leg of the Western Conference semifinal after left back, Seth Sinovic was sent off for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity with a handball on the line in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Los Angeles FC. Sinovic has been a big part of KC’s surge down the stretch and over the course of the entire season as Sporting is 12-3-4 this season in the 19 games that Sinovic has started. In the 15 games he’s not started, Sporting is just 6-5-4.
So, with Sinovic suspended for the first leg of KC’s playoff series, the question is who KC plays in his spot since KC will not be appealing the red card that was given to him. KC’s depth at outside back has been hit hard this season with two players that have gotten time at the position, Jimmy Medranda and Cristian Lobato both out for the season with injuries. That leaves Kansas City short of a few options at outside back heading on the road for a playoff game. Certainly, the opponent will likely play a role in who Peter Vermes puts out there, but here’s a look at some of the options available to Kansas City.
Recall Jaylin Lindsey
This option seems unlikely given that Lindsey only left yesterday to join the US U20 team for CONCACAF U20 World Cup qualifying, though the club is apparently considering recalling him. Since the tournament isn’t being held during a FIFA window, KC could technically recall the homegrown player at any time. Lindsey had been the starter at left back when Sinovic was out earlier this year with a hamstring injury but has not played since Sporting’s 3-2 loss to Dallas in July. Since Sporting just let him go join the US team after Sinovic had gotten the red card it would seem weird for Peter Vermes to immediately recall him after one game, but it could also be dependent on which Western Conference team KC is playing.
Push Matt Besler to the left back position
Matt Besler has been almost exclusively a center back for most of his time with Sporting. Of his over 300 appearances in all competitions, only a handful have been as an outside back, and even fewer of those have come since the team rebranded from the Wizards to Sporting. That said, Besler has played there recently for the United States on international duty. In this scenario, Vermes inserts Andreu Fontas into the middle of defense to partner Ike Opara and Besler slides to the left back position. The question with this move would be Besler mobility and ability to get up into the attack as Vermes likes his outside backs to do, it’s not something that Besler has done a lot of with the club under Vermes and seems unlikely to happen.
Start Andreu Fontas in a three-man back line
Vermes has mentioned in the past that with Fontas on the team, KC now has three starting quality center backs and gives KC some more flexibility with their formation. In this set up KC would likely look to shift to a 3-5-2 formation with Fontas, Besler, and Ike Opara would make up the back three with Graham Zusi in one of the wing positions and one of Johnny Russell, Gerso Fernandes, Yohan Croizet, and Daniel Salloi on the left wing of KC’s midfield. The midfield three would stay the same with Khiry Shelton playing up top with someone like Russell or Salloi playing underneath him, like how Russell played with Kharlton Belmar earlier this year in KC’s US Open Cup win at Salt Lake.
Making a complete formation change in the playoffs doesn’t seem to be something that would be Vermes’ style, he’s more likely to stick with a formation that the team is more comfortable with, their 4-3-3.
Start Yohan Croizet at left back
If there were betting odds for which of these options Vermes would go with, this would likely be the favorite. Croizet hasn’t spent much time at outside back with KC, just two games, both at home, in KC’s last two home games against the LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC. Croizet came on as a substitute for Sinovic in the 85th minute of Sporting’s 1-1 draw with the Galaxy back on October 6th, and then filled in at left back this weekend, replacing Russell for the final 26 minutes after Sinovic had been red carded. When Lindsey’s U20 call up was announced many fans assumed that Croizet would be the one on the bench who would play outside back in the event KC needed it. Now he’ll get the opportunity, but unlike the prior two games he’s played there, where he’s at home against an opponent who is sitting back a bit more, if he starts in the playoffs, he’ll be doing it on the road against a team that is going to be attacking more. It is a position that he has played before as Croizet played the position growing up.
Start Roger Espinoza at left back
Before his move into the midfield for Honduras and Kansas City, Espinoza was having himself a solid, if unspectacular career as an outside back for Kansas City. He was able to get into the attack and brought the same intensity he has in the middle to the position out wide. He hasn’t played much as an outside back since departing for the 2011 Gold Cup, but Vermes says he’s another option to play at left back with Sinovic suspended. Of all the options I’ve stated, this is the one that I personally dislike the most. I feel like moving Espinoza to the wing will limit his impact on the game, he does a good job of covering so much space in the middle of the field that moving him wide would hurt the team more. It also takes him out of the offense more in a season where he’s hit career highs in goals (3) and assists (9).
There are a couple other options that seem less likely, but both Gerso Fernandes and Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal have both spent time at the left back position as well. Back in June in the US Open Cup against Salt Lake, both Kuzain and Fernandes played the left back position. Kuzain first slid back to the left back position when Lobato subbed out of the game for Espinoza in the 68th minute. Fifteen minutes later, when Kuzain subbed out for Fernandes, he finished the game at left back. The situation against Salt Lake that night was obviously very different from the situation that KC will face in the playoffs this coming weekend though.
Another option would be to give Colton Storm his first start for the club. Storm, Kansas City’s first round draft pick in the 2017 MLS Superdraft has yet to make his debut for Sporting, instead he’s spent his entire career with the Swope Park Rangers on loan save a handful of times he’s been on the bench as a reserve for Sporting. He’s made more than 50 starts for Sporting’s USL side over the past two years as the Rangers have made one trip to the USL Final and this year to the Western Conference semifinal. Giving him his first start for Sporting in a playoff game though seems extremely unlikely.
A final option would be the former Seattle Sounder, Brad Evans. Evans, like Storm, hasn’t played a single minute for Kansas City, but unlike Storm, Evans has over 250 appearances in MLS play in his career. He’s struggled with injuries off and on this season limiting him to just a handful of appearances for the Rangers. This seems like another option that would be a bit of a stretch, but at the same time, Evans would be an experienced replacement for Sinovic, but at the same time he hasn’t played a game since July 10th for the Rangers.
Obviously, there are other factors that can play into who Vermes is going to play there, a lot will depend on who Kansas City play in the knock out round. Salt Lake for example has some very good wingers like Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata who can cause plenty of problems for Kansas City. Dallas meanwhile has shown that Michael Barrios can cause KC’s backline all sorts of issues, but for the most part Dallas, like Portland, like to play a bit narrower which would be good for KC. Also good for KC in terms of the outside backs is that none of the three teams KC can play cross the ball a lot, as all three teams are in the bottom third of the league in crosses per game (Dallas and Portland 15 per game, Salt Lake 13). So, the lack of crosses may allow whoever plays at the left back position where they can get a little more help from Besler.
Whoever KC play this weekend, while they’ll be missing at least three options at outside back they still have several different options available to choose from.