Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who Starts at Center Back Sunday?

Sporting Kansas City came into the 2014 season with five center backs on their roster, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Lawrence Olum, Ike Opara, and Erik Palmer-Brown. With Besler set to miss about a month in May for the World Cup, it seemed that the four other central defenders on KC's roster would be able to shoulder the load through May and June until Besler's return. Now fans are not so sure.

It started in Colorado about a month ago where KC lost Opara to an injury. The injury ended up requiring surgery and the big central defender, KC's primary back up, was done for the season. 
While that was a blow, KC could survive, Sporting still had Olum there, who while mainly playing in the midfield lately had performed well in previous years when starting there. Then yesterday morning articles from Kenya were stating that Olum had been called up for Kenya's African Cup of Nations qualifier this weekend and would miss Sunday's game against the Fire. 

That fear though looked like it went away before the game when Andrew Weibe tweeted that it appeared that Olum would not be joining Kenya for the game. That lasted for less than 24 hours before Weibe tweeted again that he wasn't sure if Olum actually would be available on Sunday now and that we wouldn't know for sure until Friday.

Then in the 60th minute of last night's game against things got even worse when fans didn't think it could. Collin went down holding his hamstring and had to be substituted for the previously mentioned Olum. After the game, Collin said he'd probably be out for two weeks. No comment on the length of time came from Peter Vermes, but I would expect him to be more cautious with his estimate than Collin was. 

On top of all that, Plamer-Brown, KC's youngest player has been listed as questionable the last few weeks on the injury report because of sesamoiditis in his right foot. 

All this ends up doing is potentially putting Sporting KC in a huge bind in Chicago on Sunday. Sporting could very well come into the game with none of their center backs on their roster available. With that as a possibility, who would partner in front of Eric Kronberg against the Fire?

There are a few options for KC that give you a little bit of confidence, both Oriol Rosell and Chance Myers have previously played the center back position and if all five of KC's center backs are out, would seem to be the logical replacements at CB. 

Rosell, while a midfielder his entire time in MLS, played as a center back for Barcalona's B team in Spain. It's certainly a different game in MLS vs the Spanish second division, but he at least has some experience there.

Myers is a bit more questionable though. KC's regular right back played some center back in college at UCLA. He's never played the position in a professional game for KC, but could very well be forced there Sunday. 

Either player moving to center back would lead to a drop in their other position on the field. Rosell dropping into the middle of defense would cause a domino affect in midfield, with Paulo Nagamura dropping to the holding position, Benny Feilhaber going to the more box-to-box role, and Alex Martinez or Jimmy Medranda going into the more attacking position. Myers moving into the middle would mean that Igor Juliao would likely get his second straight start. Defensively last night he didn't look out of place, but some of his passing was off. Another option for KC would be to recall Kevin Ellis from his Oklahoma City loan for the game.

Other than those two, I'm not sure there's anyone else on the roster that I'd put at center back. Seth Sinovic and Paulo Nagamura I feel are both a little too short to play in the middle of defense.

This wouldn't be the first time that KC travels to Chicago with a makeshift central defense, back in 2011 in the second game of the season, Vermes paired Besler and Roger Espinoza in the middle of defense after injuries and other issues left KC without much defensive coverage. So it looks again like KC will travel to Chicago with a makeshift back line.

The best thing for KC heading into the weekend is for Olum to not travel to Kenya and be available for the game. That would allow one of Myers or Rosell to partner him in the middle and allow the other to play their natural position. It's certainly not an ideal situation, especially with KC looking to put the poor performance against Philadelphia behind them. The back line will have their hands full with Quincy Amarikwa, Mike Magee, and Harry Shipp on top of their back line issues.


Unknown said...

Could switch formation to 3-5-2. Back line of Myers-Olum-Sinovicm sit two defensive mids in front of backline Uri-Nagamura. I know that PV NEVER changes formation, but desperate times....

Mike said...

Personally I'm not a fan of the 3-5-2 anyway. I think we'd be better off sticking with a 4 man back line. A 3-5-2 just leaves way too much exposure on the wings.

hartley said...

No matter who is set to play in central defense, I think it is clear we need to recall Kevin Ellis. Igor showed some flashes, but he also contributed to the right side being completely out of sync the entire match. He has great speed and showed some fantastic tackling ability. But Ellis knows the system and can play it NOW.

I know PV likes to bring in a player and keep that player with the senior squad to teach them the Sporting way, but Ellis should be here now. And Ellis is the better choice right now.

As to center back, I am very disappointed that PV hasn't picked someone up to replace Opara in the squad. You lose a player you were depending on in several situations and you don't find cover for that? Sorry, but that is a poor decsion and could cost the teams more than a handful of games.

Anonymous said...

Hartley- I don't agree about replacing Opara. This is just a horrible case of everything bad happening at once. Collin/Olum would have been fine to cover CB while Besler was gone. Then we lost Collin to injury and Olum is going to play for Kenya. EPB is possibly injured as well. After Opara was injured we still have 4 CBs, 3 during the WC... it's 3 weeks/5 games and you would think SKC would be fine for that stretch, 2 CBs and 1 ready to go.

hartley said...

Yes, some bad things have all happened at once. Shouldn't PV and the staff be prepared for such things? Shouldn't there be some players on their mind that could come in on loan that could help us out when something like this happens? It just seems a little short-sighted to not be ever prepared for such situations. You build depth, but sometimes you go beyond your depth and you have to know that can happen.

Besides, even though EPB has been in the 18, I personally never thought we would see him getting on the field in a league match unless as a late game sub with the results no longer in doubt. He hasn't even been on the field in an early round Open Cup match. This is his year to learn from the senior squad before going on loan to OKC next season to gain much needed experience and playing time.

Unknown said...

Now with no Olum and Uri maybe hurt, who knows. But, PV played in the center of the 3 of a 3-5-2 for the 2000 MLS champs.

Current 4-3-3 results in 3 at the back for much of game with Uri in middle, AC and Besler split out wide, and Chance and Seth up in midfield.

Could also help with Zusi out, give a better look up front than Peterson and Zizzo.

Mike said...

hartley, I don't think any coach in the world regularly prepares for the time when their top four center backs are all out due to international call ups or injury. It's just not something that you see happening.

With the timing of the injury to Collin and Olum's call up both coming AFTER the close of MLS' primary window the only way to bring in a player would be a trade of via a free agent. With a trade, any MLS team is going to make KC pay well over market value for a defender, and most free agents are because they're not good enough.

hartley said...

Mike, I agree you cannot prepare for everything. That said, I still have to disagree with you about this situation. PV has had plenty of time to find a suitable replacement for Opara being out. That's a guy you are counting on, so you have to get a replacement for him when you know he is gone for the season.