When Aurelien Collin signed for Sporting Kansas City in April 2011, he and Matt Besler quickly formed one of the strongest center back partnerships in MLS. Since the beginning of the 2011 campaign, no club in MLS has conceded fewer goals than Sporting KC and only the LA Galaxy have collected more regular season points – 154, edging out Sporting KC’s 150.
Needless to say, the defensive duo has been indispensable for a club that is on track to win its third consecutive Eastern Conference regular season title.
However, Sporting KC may face their biggest test of the season to date as they travel to second-place Montreal with a four-point lead in the East. Not only must they face a team that has scored 20 goals at home (second-most in MLS) and lost just once at Stade Saputo in 2013, but they must do it without both Collin and Besler.
Collin received a yellow card in last weekend’s 2-1 win at Real Salt Lake and will be suspended due to caution accumulation. Besler, meanwhile, remains with the U.S. Men’s National Team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final against Panama on Sunday in Chicago.
The last time Collin and Besler were both absent from Sporting Kansas City’s lineup in an MLS regular season match was October 2, 2010 -- back before Collin was on the team. Since then, the club has gone 93 straight matches with at least one of the two players starting in central defense.
That’s not to say Sporting KC isn’t up to the task come Saturday. Peter Vermes’ side is unbeaten in six League matches, winning three in a row, and the club’s defensive replacements have proven more than reliable.
Ike Opara is poised for his ninth MLS start of the season and has two goals to his name in 2013. His game-winning header in the 97th minute against Real Salt Lake last Saturday was arguably the best moment of the year so far.
Lawrence Olum has earned 11 MLS appearances in 2013 and Sporting KC is 7-0-4 in games that Olum appears. Last season, Olum played in 21 games and added three more starts in the U.S. Open Cup competition, including playing 120 minutes in the finals against the Seattle Sounders FC.
While Collin and Besler’s absence won’t go unnoticed at Montreal, Sporting KC has the defensive depth -- not to mention an attack growing in confidence -- to extend their unbeaten streak and their lead atop the Eastern Conference.