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Sporting KC continues to fight through early-season injuries

Club remains confident season will turn around
Johnny Russell
Posted at 6:46 PM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-26 01:02:37-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sporting Kansas City faces the daunting prospect of another game without its three starting forwards.

Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes’ club lugs a 1-3-0 record back to Children’s Mercy Park after consecutive road losses for a 6 p.m. kickoff against Real Salt Lake.

It’s Sporting KC’s worst start through four games since 1999, when the then-Wizards limped from the gate 0-3-1, but it’s also understandable given the absences the club has endured.

“Obviously, we don’t want to be in the position we’re in,” winger Johnny Russell said. “We set our standards a lot higher than that. We feel we’re better than that, but we just haven’t shown it up until now.”

Sporting KC has been outscored 8-3 through four games, which includes a 1-0 win March 5 against the Houston Dynamo FC in its only other home match.

“We haven’t been at full strength really at any point,” Russell said. “We’ve had guys missing or guys struggling going into games, not being at 100%. From that point of view, it’s been difficult so far. It’s been a bit frustrating as well.”

Russell started at right wing with Daniel Sallói at left wing and Khiry Shelton at center forward in the first two matches of the season, but Shelton and Sallói missed the loss at the Colorado Rapids and all three were hurt last weekend at the Chicago Fire FC.

Pile on the season-ending knee for Designated Player and former Liga MX scoring champ Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda’s season-long absence so far following offseason knee surgery, it’s easy to understand Sporting KC’s struggles.

“The first priority is to get everybody healthy, so you can have everybody in training and you can build off of that,” Vermes said.

In the meantime, Sporting KC isn’t looking for excuses. They’re looking for solutions.

“Obviously, we’ve been missing a lot of players as well, so that’s been difficult the last couple games,” Russell said, “but there’s no point talking about it. It’s just something we have to put right on the field, and up until now we haven’t done that.”

Russell’s hamstring injury and the calf injuries for Sallói and Shelton aren’t expected to be long-term issues.

The club also hopes to get defensive midfielder Uri Rosell, who hasn’t played since a hamstring injury in the opener at Atlanta, back sooner rather than later.

One or all could see action against Real Salt Lake in theory, though none are fully match fit and it would be unreasonable to expect them to be in midseason form.

Sporting KC also will be without two other players, left back Logan Ndenbe (Belgium U-21) and Marinos Tzionis (Cyprus), who are away on international duty.

For now, the focus is on getting late arrivals like forward Nikola Vujnović up to speed and working in additional newcomers — Ben Sweat and Kortne Ford made their first starts for Sporting KC at Chicago — as well.

“Every day is a little catch up for us,” Vermes said.

He added that the team’s morale remains high: “The guys have a good attitude, the guys have a good work ethic, effort’s always excellent and they’re working to be better.”

Real Salt Lake also has a long list of injured players, according to Friday’s MLS injury report.

“We feel we’ve identified certain areas that we know we can do better, so it’s up to us when we go on the field to carry that out,” Russell said. “Up until now, we haven’t done that, so (Saturday) is a big opportunity against a team that’s doing very well right now to showcase that we should be up there as well and we’re more than capable of doing it.”

Indeed, history suggests Sporting KC will be fine when Russell, Sallói and Shelton return to health. Sporting KC led the Western Conference and ranked second in MLS with 58 goals last season and ranked sixth in the league in 2020.

“We’ve shown time and time again that we’re one of the best attacking teams in this league,” Russell said. “I don’t see that changing. It’s obviously up to us when we’re on the field to go and show that. Talk’s cheap, so we need to get out there. We need to get back to our best and start putting fear back into teams.”

Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake can be seen Saturday on 38 The Spot.