Of course, Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes was non-committal when asked about Yohan Croizet being Seth Sinovic’s replacement at left back for the away leg of the MLS Western Conference semifinal series.
“I don’t even know if he’s going to be the guy,” said Vermes.
There are other options says TBT’s own Mike Kuhn. But Croizet was the one called upon Sunday after Sinovic was giving a red card for a handball while guarding Tim Melia’s right post – the denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity – in the second half of Sporting KC’s 2-1 win over LAFC. And Croizet was called upon to replace Sinovic in the previous home match in the 85th minute, a 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy.
If Croizet is the one (reading between the lines of the comments below, he seems to be), don’t worry, fans. The Frenchman’s got this covered, with a little help from his friends.
“We have a really good group. We are like a family,” Croizet said. “If you need something, you can ask everybody, not only the players, you can ask the staff for everything. That’s why we are really together on this team.”
Of course, all of Sporting have a vested interest in Croizet’s success at left back. They have all earned the top seed in the West and the home-field advantage that goes with it. They will not waste it. Thus, the comradery, and the trust, and the opportunity they have earned all push in the same direction.
“At training, I speak with [left center back Matt] Besler and Sinovic. They help me with my body position,” said Croizet. “I have only one week to be ready. Everything [Coach Peter Vermes] and they tell me, I focus on that. I hope I will play a good game come Sunday.”
Although Croizet played solely left back in his youth, and it’s the position at which he won his first professional contract, he hasn’t played there since this he left France to play in Belgium in 2013. And he has no professional experience playing in a cup competition beyond his Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup experience this year with Kansas City. We all know how that worked out for the 26-year-old.
“For me, [playing in a cup competition is] new. It’s a different game. You have to be ready for that,” Croizet stated. “It’s all just soccer, but we want to win the league, for sure.”
Yet MLS playoff soccer may just suit Croizet.
“Yohan is versatile. He has a skill set that I’m not even sure anyone on our team has. He’s capable of doing so many things that a lot of guys aren’t able to do,” said center back Ike Opara. “He has this capability of driving the game when he’s able to go North and South. It’s really difficult to deal with.”
It’s more of a bull’s game, less tactical, more fit for the strength, power, and raw talent of Croizet. Attacking wide backs are key in Sporting KC’s 4-3-3 system.
“I don’t want to go every time,” Croizet astutely observed. “I have to stay focused on my side… I have to defend, attack, and, sometimes, cover Besler.”
That is music to Vermes’ ears.
“Whoever is going to play there, the first thing you have to do in that position is know you have a defensive responsibility,” he said. “If you play with that in mind first, everything else usually falls into place. It’s having a very disciplined mentality about the defending aspect of it.”
Even though he plays as the right center back and thus interacts and coordinates with right back Graham Zusi more, Opara, the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year, knows what it takes to defend, and he is a Croizet fan.
“He will run himself dry. He’ll run himself into the ground. You know you are always going to get the work from him…,” said Opara. “Defensively, he’s no slouch. The guy competes, and he wants to win his duels all over the field. He’s not scared or shy in tackles. He’s in a defensive role moving forward; he will fit in perfectly to how we want to play. It’s just a matter of, ‘Can we get him adapted soon?’”
Sporting Kansas City will find out their semifinal opponent at the completion of tonight’s LAFC v. Real Salt Lake match on ESPN2 and UniMas at 9:30pm Central time. If RSL wins, Vermes and Co. will travel there. But if LAFC does, they will head to Portland.
Jaylin Lindsey, Zusi, Espinoza, Russell, and Opara
Eighteen-year-old Jaylin Lindsey has played 555 minutes in seven appearances (six starts) for Sporting Kansas City this season, much at left back, yet he hasn’t played there since July.
But the fact that Lindsey’s normal position is right back lends more credence to the idea of recalling him from his current stint with the US U-20s. Why? Regular right back Graham Zusi has played every single minute of the 2018 season. Yet, he has received treatment often during the weeks of training and was nicked up in Sunday’s match against LAFC, as was midfielder Roger Espinoza, winger Johnny Russell, and center back Ike Opara.
Opara wore protective head gear in training on Thursday as an assumed concussion caution after taking a ball to the head directly from a Lee Nguyen shot that kept him on the pitch for an extended time Sunday. Opara struggled with complications after a concussion last season and has suffered some inner ear issues this season.
Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes gave an update on Zusi, Espinoza, and Russell at training on Thursday:
“They all are banged up a little bit, but each day they keep getting better and better,” he stated. “My belief is they will all be available for Sunday’s match. In what capacity, I’m not 100% sure yet.”
On a possible Lindsey recall that could provide an experienced but young starter or cover at left or right back, Vermes stated, “[The US U-20s] play tonight [in Florida]. And we will make a decision after that. The likelihood would be that we will.”