Sporting juggle lineup as call-ups, injuries loom

Sapong may start again at Fire, Bunbury could also return

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When Peter Vermes inspects his lineup card this weekend, there will be a few conspicuous names missing.

Sporting Kansas City will travel to Chicago on Saturday to meet the Fire (4 pm ET, TeleFutura) but standouts Kei Kamara and Shavar Thomas (international duty) and Michael Harrington and Ryan Smith (injury) won’t be available as Vermes’ team looks to stay perfect on the season.

Those absences may reduce Vermes options when it comes to his preferred starting 11 and in-game substitutions, but he knows this will be a prime opportunity to prepare players on the fringe for the rest of a long season.

“It’s always great when you have the ability to look down the bench and pick a guy out for a certain job or certain occasion in a certain game,” Vermes said Thursday at his weekly press conference. “The hard thing is when those guys leave, you don’t have the chance to pick them out.”

“That’s the difficulty, but I have confidence in the other guys in our team. This is not going to be first time, and it’s not going to be the last time.”

Though a little shorthanded, Sporting will have the benefit of playing in front of a sizeable contingent of their own fans, around 300 of whom are expected to be in attendance on the club’s dime.

Kansas City will also be able to lean on the fact that they have been close to dominant against Chicago in recent times, losing just once in their last seven meetings with the Fire and going 2-0-1 at Toyota Park over the past three seasons.

Both of those developments should bode well for a team still clearly trying to find its way.

“We’re so early on in the season that everything is still evolving in the way we play and the way we want to play,” Vermes said. “We have some new guys in our team and they’re still grasping certain aspects of our style of play.”

One player who has thrived in Vermes’ system is Kamara, who is currently in Africa with Sierra Leone preparing for an African Cup of Nations qualifier against Niger.

[inline_node:331472]The most likely scenario to replace the versatile striker revolves around keeping Omar Bravo and C.J. Sapong (at right) at left and center forward and inserting the medically cleared Teal Bunbury (above) into Kamara’s customary spot on the right.

Harrington’s right back spot will be filled by either Luke Sassano, who got the nod last weekend, and Chance Myers, who took reps with the first team this week in practice. Matt Besler and Júlio César are expected to start in central defense for the second straight game.

No matter who gets the nod, Vermes knows Sporting will face a stiff test against one of their historical rivals.

Even though the club opened the season with a 3-2 victory against Chivas USA, the reality is Kansas City didn’t exactly set the soccer world alight on opening weekend, giving up two set-piece goals and struggling to imprint their will on the game.

“We had a very average performance last week,” Vermes said. “The bottom line is, it’s really an evolution of how we become better as a team. We have to continue to keep working and getting better with the way we play so those average performances become above average and excellent. That’s going to take a little time.”

Part and parcel in that evolution will be the continued growth of Sporting’s bench and the progression of the role players call upon to fill in during times of injury and inevitable national-team call-ups the squad is dealing with at the moment.

For Vermes, who said he has faith up in the players up and down the roster, any chance those guys have to see the field can only be beneficial down the line.

“In the long run,” he said, “it can only make you stronger.”

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