It’s like someone describing a delectable meal that you can’t enjoy. Like hearing about a movie or TV show that you don’t have access to. Like your kids growing up, but you not being able to witness the daily victories.
Well, maybe not getting to witness or hear a lot about the daily developments during Sporting Kansas City’s preseason in Arizona is not quite as important as one’s children or whatever one may value most.
No matter, we long for more, so when news out of the ordinary comes to light, excitement stirs and the mind activates. Thus it was on Wednesday’s presser when Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes revealed his delight at the left back position. Yes, that left back position. The one left empty when Sporting declined contract options on Amadou Dia and Luis Martins shortly after the November playoff loss to Real Salt Lake. The void may become one of 2022’s bright spots.
Asked by The Blue Testament’s Thad Bell to provide an update on the progress of free agent signing Ben Sweat and Belgian import Logan Ndenbe, Vermes began, “Great mentality, both guys.” Mentality is always where it starts with Vermes and Sporting.
And for Sweat – recovering from an ACL injury suffered in game two of Austin FC’s debut season of 2021 – signing with Sporting KC is a new start in many ways for the 30-year-old. For Ndenbe, it’s a whole lot of new start for the recently turned 22-year-old. Their minds are processing overtime off the field and on.
“[To learn and have the] ability to understand and learn concepts within the way we play, it’s a lot,” said Vermes to a question from TBT’s Chad Smith, referring to all new players to the squad, the count of which currently sits at seven.
So far so good for the new left backs, a position that was occupied for years by the solid-if-unspectacular Seth Sinovic, he the man who fended off many newcomers at a critical position for KC’s 4-3-3. Not only are Sweat and Ndenbe of a different mold than Sinovic, they are different from one another.
“[There are] two differences [between the two guys], one, Ben is pretty tall for a left back; Logan is more compact as a player. He’s a pretty strong kid; he’s explosive,” Vermes stated, perhaps implying Ndenbe to be the more “explosive” of the two. “Both of them understand the position really well. Both of them – good defenders 1 v 1.”
In reference to all eleven players on the pitch, Vermes stated that “all have a role to play when we have the ball and when we don’t have the ball. When we have the ball, I look at it as everybody is an attacker… You have to be prepared to play within the way we play. you can’t be the black hole; [You can’t be the guy who when] the ball is moving around the field in a great rhythm and it comes to you and it dies there.”
The wide backs most often provide Sporting’s ball control attack with width up each flank as they search for openings in the opponents’ armor. The link below documents a case in Vermes’ point (just also happens to be one of the few times Dia saw the field). Notice Dia touches the ball three times in the buildup.
Be assured that Vermes is giving Sweat and Ndenbe plenty of feedback, similar to what Sinovic enjoyed throughout his career, as they learn in preseason, especially Ndenbe who has only recently arrived at training camp.
For all the learning, Vermes’ next statement on the two was all the more impressive: “For me, this is probably the best tandem we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
That is quite a peek into the box of Sporting’s preseason. And kudos to Sporting Kansas City’s talent recruitment corps.
Bell’s question included, and I paraphrase: How close are each to being ready to play 90 on the starting day [February 27 at Atlanta United]?
“It’s about us building both guys into the team so that both guys feel comfortable with the team, and we feel comfortable with them,” Vermes replied. “And, also, physically, when asked to go and play, both can participate physically. I really feel comfortable with both guys, and I love their mentality and attitude.”
Vermes has always longed for more from the left back position than Sinovic’s ceiling or Martins on-and-off defense and capable, but limited attacking tools; the system has demanded more.
Whether Sporting’s left back position is “loaded” with talent that produces results throughout the MLS season is yet to be seen. However, Sporting’s left back position is cocked and poised to release on MLS and to grace the pitch at Children’s Mercy Park.
Now, which of the two will become the most valued and win the bulk of the minutes? Hopefully, we get a look at both this Saturday as Sporting takes on Phoenix Rising in Arizona at 5:30pm Saturday.