Photo by ISIphotos.com
By TATE STEINLAGE
It wasn’t exactly a dream debut for Sporting Kansas City defender Erik Palmer-Brown on Sunday in Chicago. The highly-regarded 17-year-old — who just three months ago was the target of Serie A giant Juventus in a $1 million bid — lasted 64 minutes in his first MLS appearance before getting sent off after picking up his second yellow on the afternoon.
The performance was a bit expected, at least for Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes. Just a month ago Vermes noted that Palmer-Brown would eventually have to be tossed into the “lion’s den” after fellow centerback Ike Opara went down with a season-ending ankle injury. He maintained that perspective following Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Fire as the media asked about his thoughts on the young defender’s play.
“It was a good introduction for him,” Vermes said. “Obviously it’s not the easiest of situations, but unfortunately it is what it is and sometimes you get baptized by getting thrown into the fire. He did a little bit today.
“I thought in a lot of situations he was actually very good, but it was about him getting his debut. We put a lot of pressure on him today to have to come in there and step in, and I thought he did well with the opportunity.”
Despite the two cards and a challenge inside the penalty area in the 15th minute which led to Chicago scoring the game-winning penalty goal, Palmer-Brown completed 15 successful passes in 19 attempts, and had six clearances and six recoveries in just over an hour of action.
“I think in a lot of respects it was a good start for him,” Vermes repeated. “He’s got a lot of better days in front of him.”
Here are more Sporting KC notes:
MOUNTING CONCERNS AT CENTERBACK
Like every MLS team, Sporting KC had positions to address this past offseason. Centerback was not one of them, however.
The club knew it would be without hometown defender and captain Matt Besler for much of the summer with the World Cup, but centerbacks Aurelien Collin and Ike Opara were expected to aid the league’s best defense two years running. If not, then 17-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown — still a high school student — could step in and be another traditional centerback.
But now Opara is out for the season with an ankle injury, Collin is battling an ongoing hamstring tweak, and Palmer-Brown picked up a red card in his MLS debut. While the latter two predicaments are expected to be ironed out in the weeks to come, that leaves Sporting KC without a traditional centerback for a clash with forward Jermain Defoe and Toronto FC on Friday at Sporting Park.
“We’ll have to assess that as the week goes on,” Vermes said when asked how how his staff will go about dealing with the situation. “We got a lot of days between now and then and we’ll figure something out.”
If Sunday is any indication of how Vermes may counter the lack of traditional centerbacks, Sporting KC may stick with a 3-5-2 formation rather than Vermes’ favored 4-3-3.
“We played a 3-5-2 based on the people that we had,” Vermes said after Sunday’s match. “The only centerback we had was Erik (Palmer-Brown), and trying to put somebody next to him that normally doesn’t play there would have been difficult. I will say that at the end we played four in the back because we had to and I thought we did a good job. But we are going to have to make those decisions going forward, how we’re going to do it, based on limited guys at that position at the moment.”
2014-15 CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAW SET
Sporting KC is just two months removed from being knocked out of the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League by eventual winners Cruz Azul, this year’s tournament is just around the corner.
The 2014-15 CCL draw is set for May 28 at the InterContinental at Doral in Miami, Fla. Sporting KC qualified for this year’s tournament by winning the 2013 MLS Cup. The team will join the New York Red Bulls, Montreal Impact or Toronto FC, Portland Timbers, and D.C. United as the other MLS teams competing in the 24-squad event.
The qualified teams for the 2014-15 CCL can be seen below:
Caribbean Zone: Alpha United Football Club (Guyana); Waterhouse Football Club (Jamaica); Puerto Rico Bayamon FC (Puerto Rico).
Central American Zone: Belmopan Bandits (Belize); Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica); Liga Deportiva Alajuelense (Costa Rica); Asociación Deportiva Isidro Metapan (El Salvador); FAS/Dragon (El Salvador 2); Club Social y Deportivo Comunicaciones (Guatemala); Club Social y Deportivo Municipal (Guatemala); Club Deportivo Olimpia (Honduras); Real Club Deportivo España (Honduras); Tauro Fútbol Club (Panama); Chorrillo Fútbol Club (Panama); Real Estelí Fútbol Club (Nicaragua)
North American Zone: Montreal Impact/Toronto FC (Canada 1); Club de Fútbol América (Mexico); Cruz Azul Fútbol Club (Mexico); Club de Fútbol Pachuca (Mexico); Club Leon (Mexico); D.C. United (U.S.); New York Red Bulls (U.S.); Portland Timbers (U.S.); Sporting Kansas City (U.S.)
Sporting KC’s potential opponents include:
1 from Pot B: Canadian champion, Saprissa (Costa Rica), Real España (Honduras) or Isidro Metapán (El Salvador)
1 from Pot C: Municipal (Guatemala), Chorrillo (Panama), either Dragón or FAS (El Salvador), Real Estelí (Nicaragua), Belmopan Bandits (Belize – subject to stadium meeting criteria), Puerto Rico Bayamón (Puerto Rico), Waterhouse (Jamaica) or Alpha United (Guyana)
OTHER NEWS AND NUGGETS:
- Erik Palmer-Brown became the youngest player in MLS history to start a league match as a defender Sunday.
- Sporting KC will face either Minnesota United FC (NASL) or the Des Moines Menace (USASA) in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday June 18 at Sporting Park.
- Sporting Park will be getting new grass starting June 2. According to Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman, the grass will be bermuda and rye.
- Defender Lawrence Olum made his first international appearance for Kenya on Sunday in a 1-0 victory over Comoros in the African Cup of Nations qualifying match. Olum started and played 68 minutes in the match, becoming the seventh Sporting KC player to feature for his respective national team.