Sporting Kansas City's comeback in a 3-2 victory over the Houston Dynamo on Saturday night helped gloss over some costly mistakes from a usually solid backline.
Yet despite one of its worst performances of the season, one that began with Ike Opara's gaffe in the second minute, coach Peter Vermes was more focused on his defense's response rather than the notion that Opara's error could represent a larger problem.
“That’s an individual mistake,” Vermes said. ”I understand that those things are going to happen sometimes. They do. The important thing is our reaction as a team.”
Kansas City's defense was far from full strength, with Opara partnering at center back with rookie Graham Smith, who was making his MLS debut.
It was Opara's third partner there this season, one more than he had over all of 2017 when he lined up aside of either Matt Besler or Erik Palmer-Brown.
In 2018, Opara has teamed with Besler, Emiliano Amor and Smith. On Saturday, Amor's omission from Saturday's 18-man roster was termed a "coach's decision" while Besler and Seth Sinovic were out with injuries. (Sinovic made the bench but didn't play.)
In the case of Amor, Vermes said he simply wanted to manage the 23-year-old Argentine's workload. Signed on loan in January from Velez Sarsfield, Amor has played 135 minutes in two appearances.
“I’ve got to be careful that psychologically, they’re not getting overwhelmed when they’re playing a lot of games in a row,” Vermes said. “You think it’s a physical aspect they get tired from, but a lot of times it’s the mental. To bring a guy out, and give him a chance to watch the game, it helps a lot.”
Vermes appeared satisfied with the performance from Smith, who was Sporting's second pick of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft and 18th selection overall.
“He’s been playing well, and I thought he did an excellent job tonight,” Vermes said. “He was good on the ball, he was calm in the game, and when I told him he was going to play he responded really well.”
Smith was grateful for the opportunity.
“When Peter told me I was ecstatic,” Smith said afterward. “I wanted to make the most of my opportunity. It’s a terrific club. I couldn’t have been drafted to a better organization. I felt prepared with all the resources that they have here.”
He credited his performance to those around him.
“It’s an unreal group of guys,” Smith said. “I can’t tell you how helpful Ike was during the lead up, and during the game. Just making little adjustments, [like] when to drop, when to be aggressive. He was great. Even Graham [Zusi], Roger [Espinoza], Ilie, Tim [Melia], they all made it so much easier. It’s just like another game, you’re just playing with better players, and they help out so much.”