Change. No one really likes change. We say we do. But it is uncomfortable. It gets us out of our routines. We humans thrive in routine.
If there is one thing Sporting Kansas City is not this season, as they effort to vault higher in the aesthetics of the game and in the standings, it is routine. New players and a more attacking way of playing designed to lift scoring have been ushered in, conscientiously, as is expected, but it is change.
And after just one match, Sporting Kansas City fans are calling for change as the team fell in their season-opener at home, failing to score even one goal in a 2-0 defeat to NYCFC last Sunday.
Two players that did not feature in the opener – one newbie and one veteran – are ready to help.
Khiry Shelton, acquired from NYCFC to bolster the center forward ranks, had a fine preseason, showing some flashes of his distinct blend of strength, foot skill, and combining prowess. He had seemingly won the critical starting center forward spot in Manager Peter Vermes’ 4-3-3 system. He was in rhythm and was expectant. However, he suffered a deep leg bruise in the final preseason match, its lingering effects keeping him out of the opener.
Seth Sinovic, the seven-year veteran of over 165 games played for Sporting KC and a firm starter on MLS’s best defense in 2017, mostly played with the second team in preseason. It was a change, though one he has experienced before.
“For every player, they want routine. If you are playing regularly, you are playing the game, you get a day off, you get a recovery day, and you start to build up for the next game…” said Vermes, before touching on Shelton and Sinovic’s position. “Now, all of a sudden, you are the guy trying to fight into the team; you don’t have that same exact schedule because you train a little bit harder, a little bit longer during the week because you are not getting the minutes on the weekend.”
This Saturday’s match at Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, is a chance for both Shelton and Sinovic to get back to the routine.
“I’m feeling better,” said the 24-year-old Shelton after Thursday’s training. “A leg bruise, it’s not fun. I’ve been training, and every day is getting better. I’m just taking it day-by-day.”
Diego Rubio got the start on Sunday, likely due to Shelton’s injury. Yet Rubio was not an influence on the attacking end and was pulled for Daniel Salloi early in the second half. Vermes seemed optimistic that Shelton would be traveling to Chicago.
“After today’s practice, it looks like he has a chance to be in the eighteen. I was really concerned last week,” said Vermes. “[Khiry’s] made a lot of progress, so there is a good chance he will be in the eighteen, especially after today’s performance. I’m also going to be conservative and say that I’m going to wait until tomorrow because sometimes a player goes out, feels really good, goes through the whole training, and then shows up the next day and it’s not as good as he thought it would be.”
Battling injury, or competition, is not new to the 31-year-old Sinovic who featured as a staple in the Sporting Kansas City lineup from 2012-2014, being named Sporting KC’s Defender of the Year in 2014. But a concussion suffered in May of 2015 kept Sinovic off the field for more than three months until his return August 29 of that season. He was in and out of the starting 11 the rest of the season and did not feature in the playoff loss at Portland Timbers. Only nine appearances and six starts in MLS in 2016 marked Sinovic’s career lows with Sporting KC as he was often the second or third-choice at left back behind Amadou Dia and Jimmy Medranda, though he did feature in CONCACAF Champions League play and in the playoff loss at Seattle Sounders.
This season, Kansas City native Sinovic seems to be battling for time due to more emphasis on attacking play from the left back position as Spanish import Cristian Lobato started there Sunday with Sinovic an unused sub, even though Lobato was subbed off for Medranda in the second half.
“It’s a very strong team this year, and we have very high expectations for ourselves… You have to fight for your opportunities for sure,” Sinovic said. “We are trying to be pretty attacking-minded and put goals in the back of the net. Obviously, defense has been a strength for the past how many ever years, but we have to add that component into our game.”
A harsh fate for those not in routine that can occur is injury, the worst way to lose playing time.
“If you are healthy, you at least give yourself an opportunity to play,” said Sinovic. “That’s been a goal of mine.”
“For Seth, that was a really tough year when he had the concussion and all the other things. It’s interesting: one thing happens, and all of a sudden, it’s like the snowball effect,” said Vermes.
Both Shelton and Sinovic know they need to work hard as they await to take advantage of opportunity.
Shelton has quickly found his teammates to be wonderful people, mentioning Ike Opara, Matt Belser, and Sinovic specifically, and this has helped with his change of location and his injury setback.
Sinovic, being a veteran (and a veteran Kansas Citian), has more to fall back on.
“I try to be the best teammate I can be, try and help younger guys, pass along any knowledge that I have, and try and learn as much as I can because there are always things to improve on and learn from on a daily basis,” he said. “I love the team. I love being here in Kansas City. And I love what this team and organization is about. I’m happy to be a part of it, but I always want to compete to play.”
As excited Vermes may be about Shelton and the new additions to the roster, he had words of assurance for the others.
“Guys that have been around a long time and understand the world that they are in and how much influence they have had, that should be their insurance, their security, not to say that you rest on your laurels, but you also have to be confident in what you’ve done,” he said. “And Seth is one of those guys; he’s been in almost every single big match we’ve ever had in this club. Why wouldn’t you feel confident about that?”
Khiry Shelton is seeking routine. Seth Sinovic is too. And it could come Saturday. But for Sinovic, it may just be that the more things change, the more they stay the same.