Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes has confirmed what fans feared: Midfielder Paulo Nagamura will miss Wednesday's home leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a sprained left ankle.
“He's not ready yet,” Vermes said Tuesday, during the team's weekly news conference. “He's still got some pain. He's been jogging, but he's not ready yet.”
Nagamura also missed Sporting's 2-0 loss at Houston in Sunday's opening leg, after being injured in the first half of a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia in the regular-season finale on Oct. 24.
His extended absence likely leaves Sporting, who trail 2-0 in the home-and-home series, without two starting-caliber midfielders for Wednesday's match at Livestrong Sporting Park (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). On Monday, Vermes said defensive midfielder Júlio César would likely be out with a quad strain suffered late in Sunday's match.
“We're going to have to make some changes, for sure,” Vermes said. “That's the way it is. We have a group of guys on this roster – will they bring something different from the other guys? Sure. Will they have the same level of experience? Maybe not. But I have confidence in those guys that they can play the game – and they can play our game. They can play our style.”
After Sunday's loss in Houston, and again once Sporting returned to Kansas City, goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen stressed the importance of getting an early goal in the second leg.
And while Sporting have struggled to score against the Dynamo, with two goals in five meetings dating back to last November's Eastern Conference Championship, there's statistical reason for Nielsen's hope.
SKC's 11 goals in the first 15 minutes of play tied for first in MLS during the regular season, while Houston's 17 goals conceded in the first 30 tied the Dynamo for second-worst in the league.
“If we score a goal,” Nielsen said Tuesday, “in my opinion the game will be completely open.”
But if that goal doesn't come in the first half-hour, Vermes said, Sporting won't panic.
"It's great to be able to score on anyone early, because it changes their game plan a little bit. It's great to be able to do that,” Vermes said. “But if there's something we learned last year, in the [conference] final, that was that you don't have to win everything in those first 10, 20, 30 minutes. I mean, look at what happened the second half.”
In that match, Houston scored twice after the break to win 2-0 and deny Sporting its first trip to MLS Cup since the then-Wizards finished runners-up in 2004.
“You have to manage the game,” Vermes said. “We realize that. We're going to have to do that in this game. It's nothing different from when we played the Open Cup final here. We played 120 minutes, and we managed that game, and that was a battle. That was a real battle.”