There’s probably a long list of MLS teams Sporting Kansas City would rather face without starting centerbacks Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin than the Montreal Impact.
That’s especially true at Stade Saputo, where Montreal — ranked second in MLS at 1.63 goals scored per game — is 6-1-3 this season.
Still, that’s the situation manager Peter Vermes’ club finds itself in at 6 p.m. Saturday when Sporting KC will try to widen its lead in the Eastern Conference against the second-place Impact.
Besler remains away from the club as part of the U.S. men’s Gold Cup roster, while Collin is suspended for a match for yellow-card accumulation after racking up his eighth of the season during last week’s dramatic 2-1 win at Real Salt Lake.
“It’s not a good thing,” Vermes said. “I like to have all players available. I hate the fact that (Paula Nagamura’s) not available, but it doesn’t help us to worry about it. The focus has got to be on the guys that are available and the guys that can play. I have confidence in the group that we have.”
Vermes insists that isn’t hopeful talk either. He genuinely believes that likely replacements Ike Opara and Lawrence Olum can get the job done.
“We’re fairly confident,” Opara said. “The team’s in good form right now. It’s shown all year, no matter who’s in there the team gets the job done more often than not.”
Opara has started eight games this season after arriving via trade with the san Jose Earthquakes. The club is 3-2-3 when he’s in the starting lineup, including an historic win at Houston on May 12 — the first loss for the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium.
He played the hero’s role against Real Salt Lake, heading home a Graham Zusi corner kick for the winning goal in the 97th minute last Saturday.
Obviously, Opara’s confidence is soaring at the moment.
“That was amazing,” Opara said. “We’ve had a couple games this year, like Seattle when they scored on us late in the game or at Dallas, so we were due for giving a gutting blow to another team. It felt good to be on the other end of it.”
That goal notwithstanding, Vermes doesn’t see any reason Opara’s confidence shouldn’t be off the charts.
“He’s played very well every time he’s had to come in and play for us,” Vermes said. “He’s done a great job. He should feel very confident just on his play. Obviously, the goal is some added boost, but he should already feel very confident, because every one of his performances have been good for us so far.”
Meanwhile, Olum hasn’t spent much time at centerback this season, but he got the nod last summer when Collin was suspended for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship game and acquitted himself well.
“Lo has an uncanny ability to play multiple positions, which is great, especially up the middle part of the field,” Vermes said. “I have a huge amount of confidence with him playing there.”
Even going up against Italian striker Marco Di Vaio, whose 11 goals rank third in MLS, doesn’t faze Olum.
“These are the type of games you want to be in, the big games that really affect the standings, so you can measure up against some of the top players in the league,” Olum said. “It shows you where you are. My confidence is good, though, so I’m not really worried.”
Mechack Jerome, who played well at centerback for Haiti during Gold Cup play, is a possibility to start at centerback as well.
Regardless of who plays, communication will be key.
“There’s going to be a lot of communication needed, so that’s the main thing we’ll have to get sorted out,” Opara said. “Tactically and technically, all those things, I think Lo’s going to be fine. We probably haven’t worked together as much as we would have liked if that’s going to be the pairing, but I think we’ll be fine.”