Some rookies. An ultimate disappointing acquisition in Nuno Coelho. An always seeming stop-gap insertion of Kevin Ellis. A just-never-seemed-permanent Erik Palmer-Brown situation. The backups for stalwart, and sometimes injured, center backs Matt Besler and Ike Opara at Sporting Kansas City have always seemed tenuous, causing concern in, and sometimes ire from, fans and pundits alike.
But Friday night’s insertion of Argentine Emiliano Amor into Opara’s right center back spot due to Opara’s illness (see below) and the first appearance of veteran Brad Evans in the 18 has perhaps brought stability and true depth to the critical position on Peter Vermes’ squad in 2018.
Amor, who will turn 23 next month, was acquired in January on loan from his hometown Buenos Aires club Velez Sarsfield. After making his debut with the 10-time Argentine Primera Division champion at age 19, Amor made more than 50 first-team appearances at center back.
In an important early-season match up with a 2nd-place Whitecaps squad that snapped their 24-home game unbeaten streak and quelled Sporting KC’s run to clinching a home playoff match last season, Amor admirably maintained Sporting’s intricate backline coordination. By the 4th minute, Amor had posted up multiple times on the speedy Brek Shea or the bulky Anthony Blondell, denying them room to turn and get on the counter where the Whitecaps thrive.
“The thing I like the most about him is that he’s confident with his ability to step in front of either the striker or the winger,” said goalkeeper Tim Melia. “He’s not afraid to try and intercept that space, which is a very good skillset for a center back. It’s one that if you get it wrong, you get called out a lot on. And he does that well.”
And despite a giveaway or two and a slagging off of Blondell near midfield, allowing him the time and vision to play the through ball that broke Yordy Reyna in alone on Melia in the 7th minute, Amor was more than solid. Further evidence comes in the form of a 28th minute step-up to deny Reyna the ball and a duel won a minute later over Blondell when Amor skillfully touched the ball away, before the eventual 6-0 win gave him much less to do with Vancouver down to nine after two red cards a few minutes later.
“He’s good,” said Melia, whose determined save on Reyna kept the visitors off the board. “He reads the game really well. He steps into space really well. He’s comfortable with the ball at his feet, which is really important on this team, and he has a presence aerially… All the things I saw were really positive.”
The 6’0”, 175 lbs. center back was unavailable for comment due to language issues, but his manager provided more positives.
“And he exhibited some of the things that I thought he had, which I would call ‘street smarts.’ There are certain competitive little things that he did in the course of the game that were really good,” Vermes stated. “And he wasn’t fazed at all; that was a big game.”
Yes, Amor is in Kansas City on loan, with a Sporting Kansas City option to make the deal permanent. At first look, Amor could be just what is needed. Sporting Kansas City needs a current and a future solution at center back as Besler is 31 and Opara 29. If needed, Evans provides the stability of a veteran backup, and Amer Didic, Mathew Lewis, and Graham Smith are being primed for the future with the Swope Park Rangers. Yet Amor’s combination of youthful experience and his certain quality make him the prime candidate for assured center back depth… finally… for Sporting Kansas City in 2018 and beyond.
Though kept out of Friday night’s match, Opara trained Monday, and on Tuesday trained thoroughly with the team as they prepare to travel to New England Revolution for Saturday’s tilt with new Manager Brad Friedel’s men.
Said Vermes, “[It’s a] matter of every day, if he’s going along the right way, then his progression should be back to normal. He needs to get a week of training under his belt,” said Vermes before providing an indication of the problem. “And it’s not just for where he had the vertigo, it’s more of that Ike needs a routine. So it’s really important for him to get a week’s worth of training.”