It’s been a tough few months for Sporting Kansas City, who have won just one league match in their last 10 and have been ravaged by a steady stream of injuries both major and minor.
So one can imagine manager Peter Vermes’ chagrin at seeing a bevy of international call-ups further decimate his squad this week as Sporting prepare to visit Toronto FC tonight at 6 p.m. CT.
“As the requests for international duty were coming in, at this point it’s a little tough to swallow just because with so many guys out – and the guys that left are basically almost the [only] healthy guys, if you will,” said Vermes, who has been unable to field a full 18-man gameday roster on many occasions in 2019.
“So that’s a little bit difficult, but we’ll have a little more than 11 for the game, so we’ll get ready for it with the guys that we have and we’ll keep working through this time.”
Nicolas Hasler, Johnny Russell, Botond Barath and Krisztian Nemeth have been called away to their national teams. Influential center back Matt Besler continues to grapple with a hamstring problem, a long list of long-term injury absentees remains and the ball is not exactly bouncing Sporting's way.
"We are in a situation where every mistake – any mistake – is going against us and any mistake means that the other team is scoring," said midfielder Ilie Sanchez, who made clear that a victory is needed in Toronto. "We have to try to erase those mistakes.
"We cannot feel sorry for ourselves."
Even when a trusted contributor returns from spells on the sideline, Sporting face the challenge of reintegrating them on the fly, both individually and collectively.
“It’s just reality: When so many guys are out of the lineup and then so many guys are coming back in to the team because they’re coming back from injury, you always lack a very important aspect and that’s game fitness, it’s rhythm, it’s form, and a lot of times the only way that you get that is by playing,” said Vermes.
“And so sometimes you suffer a little bit to get that fitness, that form back of a player during your games. it’s one thing if you have a couple guys, it’s a big difference when you have a lot of guys… I think in the long run it makes us stronger.”
Young Homegrown Gianluca Busio said Sporting KC maintain a 'next man up' mentality and suggested that Toronto, who are also missing a quarter of starters to international play, can be undone along the flanks.
"We can exploit them on the wing. They’re going to have three in the middle so probably the middle will be a little clogged up," he said. "We can open the game up and try to create from the wing … and when they open up, try to do down the middle."
Despite his limited options, Vermes sounded a note of optimism in his weekly press conference as he praised the survivors who are coming to grips with new or bigger roles and increased playing time.
“We’ve had a good mentality, we’re building back up and the performances are getting better,” he said, citing Graham Smith and Yohan Croizet in particular for their recent performances. “It’s like taking a group of guys that really haven’t spent a lot of time together in regards to playing a lot of games, but now they’re starting to get them and you’re starting to see a rhythm, starting to see some continuity on the field. That’s a really positive sign for us.”