Over the course of preseason we’ve been able to pick up little nuggets of information from talking to players, coaches and other Sporting Kansas City employees. Much of that information doesn’t really fit anywhere else, so let’s throw it all in here. At the bottom of the story I’ve posted the full interviews with Peter Vermes and Johnny Russell from Saturday’s preseason game against Phoenix Rising FC (USL).
Where was Matt Besler?
Vermes said, “Just a little rest for him. He’s put a lot of miles in over the years and just making sure that he stays healthy going into the start of the season.” Earlier in the same day, I was told that he has a very minor hamstring injury and was held out of the game as a precaution. It’s unclear which version is correct.
Medranda and Zusi Updates
Jimmy Medranda and Graham Zusi both missed their fourth straight preseason games but according to Vermes there is nothing to worry about. They both returned to full training two days ago, they will be good to continue to train in full starting Monday and we should see them both in action on Wednesday.
It’s unclear where we can expect to see Medranda play. There is suddenly a lot of depth at LB (Sinovic/Lobato) and at box-to-box midfielder (Espinoza/Felipe). As for Zusi, he’s clearly the first choice at right back. 17-year-old Jaylin Lindsey has been getting the starts but it’s expected the team will announce the signing of veteran Brad Evans very soon. Speaking of Evans, he was spotted in SKC attire again today, but not dressed to play.
Speaking of Lobato
Cristian Lobato has gotten starts over and over at left back over the last few games. When talking with fellow TBT writer Bob Russert, he’s made it quite clear he believes Lobato will start.
Lobato isn’t the blue collar worker that we hold close to our heart but he is much more the skilled, calm, and clever soccer player. With the way SKC’s style of play is morphing, Lobato is the man. It has just taken him a while to get comfortable. Lobato needs to shore up his defensive play, and with Vermes in charge, that WILL be taken care of.
I’ve been of the mindset that Seth Sinovic would still start but that may just be me holding onto the past. Lobato is probably a better fit going forward (both literally and when thinking of the future) as long as he figures out his defensive responsibilities.
When I asked specifically about Lobato over Sinovic Vermes danced around it for a bit saying, “Nobody’s won me over yet. We have a lot of competition within a lot of positions.” But he did add, “I like what those guys [Lobato and Shelton] are doing.”
We all remember that Matt Besler had his worst year at CB when he was both hurt and playing next to Jimmy Medranda. Medranda, like Lobato, would get out of position a bit. Maybe when Lobato/Medranda start, Evans should be the right back for some defensive consistency. And when Zusi starts, Sinovic is the fullback who stays home more. Just a thought.
Speaking of Shelton
Khiry Shelton has continued to get the start at center forward over last years starter Diego Rubio. Rubio by the way, still hasn’t scored a goal in preseason, despite now three games against USL competition (Phoenix Rising) or lower (Phoenix Rising trialists and Sporting Arizona). He had a really good chance today but sent that opportunity wide.
As for Shelton, he falls into that above quote from Vermes about liking “what those guys are doing.” He has looked really sharp and is very quick for such a big player. Maybe his true position has always been center forward but David Villa simply didn’t let him get his minutes there. He had a very unselfish assist today to Daniel Salloi when many #9’s would have simply shot into that traffic.
That is the kind of play needed from a center forward in Sporting KC’s more possession oriented offense.
Vermes on Subs and Squad Rotation
You can see the full quote in the video below, but a few things he said jumped out at me. First Vermes said, “I’ll play the guys when they need to be played.” Then he ended the line of questioning with, “when the team is playing well, I don’t know why I should change it.”
That in response to me saying people have been critical in the past of his unwillingness to use substitutions and to rotate his squad. It seems that most people attribute the late season collapses over the last four years, at least in part, to players being worn down at the end of the year. With increased quality of squad depth it seems only logical to use more of these players.
Despite how the quotes above might be taken, when Vermes was talking about who will play what roles, he did seem pretty open to the fact that there are lots of options and players will rotate. He just didn’t answer this specific question that way.
Felipe Gutierrez... err Felipe
When speaking with PR today for Sporting KC, they confirmed that Felipe Gutierrez will simply go by Felipe. I imagine that will be the name on the back of his kit much like Gerso or Ilie. I already found myself still saying “Gutierrez” but I’m sure that will come with time.
I asked how Swope Park Ranger Felipe Hernandez felt about it and the team PR replied that he’ll just go by Hernandez. I guess the first team Designated Player ultimately gets first choice. Plus, I imagine it’s OK if we use his full name.
Also, something that was in an interview I did with Vermes on Wednesday is that Felipe’s ideal position is the box-to-box midfielder or the #8 role, that is currently occupied by Roger Espinoza. That said, both of his preseason appearances have come next to Espinoza, not as his replacement.
Johnny Russell’s first (brief) interview
I got a chance to talk with Russell after he put about 30 minutes in during his debut. First, where does he prefer to play? “Anywhere across the front.” Although when talking only about the wings, he prefers the right. After I confirmed that he was left footed he said he likes to “cut inside, open up the pitch. I feel like I have a lot more options.”
When I asked Vermes about his position he said, “he can play right wing, left wing [or] one of the two attacking midfielders.” First, I didn’t know Sporting played with two attacking midfielders. I thought it was box-to-box (#8) and attacking (#10). Maybe a simple word fumble or maybe Sporting are looking to do something slightly different with their two more forward midfielders.
Either way, there are suddenly a lot of right wingers (not politically speaking — at least I don’t think so) on the team. Gerso played there most of last year. Yohan Croizet has lined up there the last two preseason games. And now Russell wants to play there. Great news for Daniel Salloi who prefers left wing (or at least Vermes has said he prefers him there). It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out as there is a lot of salary tied up in guys who like to play on the right (though Croizet has said he prefers the #10 role).
And Now, the Videos
Let’s be clear about something before watching these videos, I’m really bad at interviewing people. So bad that the video I have from Wednesday’s game is out of focus and the lens is covered in water and I’ve chose not to upload it. I’ll try to get better, but with only preseason to practice, that seems unlikely. I’m going to blame this on the fact that I’m not use to being the only person asking questions and having to fire off question after question quickly. But hey, I tried!
Side note on that Wednesday interview. Before I started the interview with Vermes I asked if he wanted to get under this tent that was set up and you should have seen the look he gave me. What he may not realize is it doesn’t rain in Arizona and I was simply not prepared to handle it. I thought I was being considerate, but Vermes is obviously much tougher than me. After a decade in the desert, I was quite cold. I digress. I imagine many a person has gotten that look over the years. In case you couldn’t tell how hard it was raining in the stream, here is a picture I snapped right before interviewing him.