Without MLS play for three weeks, this was supposed to be a ho-hum time for Sporting Kansas City. There were going to be some winnable US Open Cup matches (which should be more important than they are), and the focus was going to go directly onto Euro 2012, the OFC Cup, and World Cup Qualifying in the other four confederations. There is always a danger in a slow news cycle that everything is going to come all at once and usually not in a positive light. When the season hits a lull, only bad things seem to happen, but perhaps this is years of negativity derived from my personal devotion to Kansas City sports.
So perhaps one week too late, Matt Besler's appendix made the decision that it no longer was happy with serving no purpose inside his body and decided to make its removal a matter of the most importance. From a man who has had an appendectomy, it is fair of me to say that the appendix's only purpose is to bring misfortune upon its owner and it doesn't even do that very well. It is the Justin Bieber of internal organs; people mention it far too often and it's only remembered for the one time it caused you acute pain and then was promptly forgotten.
In other forums, I have declared my chagrin for the disappearance of dominant center backs. The use of central defensive midfielders has given them a shield that has produced complacency in development or masked overall flaws in those that exist. Sure, there are still some that work well in tandem. (Borussia Dortmund's pair Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic and Manchester City's Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott, jump to mind). In MLS, their really is no pair more steady and compatible than Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler. This loss if only for this month is not to be scoffed at.
Just to see the discrepancy from Besler to his backups, look back just two matches to the Orlando City US Open Cup match. It may not be fair to jump on Konrad Warzycha's first match as a first team center back, but it was painful in many ways that only an Oguchi Onyewu fan can understand. In fact, Warzycha's play wasn't the most troubling aspect, rather watching Collin try to either over-compensate or take pressure away from him that resulted in Collin's ugliest match of 2012.
The overarching story here is not just of Sporting Kansas City woe, but rather a woe of coaching and development in the United States. The depth at center back is lacking from the national level right through the MLS. Take a look at the precipitous fall of the LA Galaxy upon losing Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez was 2011 Defender of the Year, but the drop-off from starter to backup should never be that steep even in the case of designated players. There is both the tendency to move players out of central defense if they show skills that would play elsewhere, the best example being 2012 First Pick Andrew Wenger being drafted to be a forward for Montreal. Certainly, the coaches may be right, but the disappearance of the target forward at the current moment should give coaches pause when going with the conventional thought that center backs need to be tall and physical. MLS is slow to adapt world soccer trends, when the league needs to be on the cutting edge to lessen the gap between them and the elite leagues. Starting to realize that central defenders need to be as talented as strikers is an easy fix.
While this may be a doom and gloom tale about how there are no saviors lurking over the horizon, there are many positive things to take from this. I'm assuming medical science has advanced to the point that nobody gets the butcher's special appendectomy anymore unless necessary. Returns from appendectomies are much faster, best evidenced by the quick return of Matt Cassel two years ago to save the Chiefs from Brodie Croyle. However, because of the timing and the unfortunate compression of the MLS schedule this month, he could still miss three matches if he is out three weeks.
If he misses those matches, expect a heavy burden to be put upon Julio Cesar and Aurelien Collin. The popular fan theory has us moving Julio Cesar back and putting Lawrence Olum or Paulo Nagamura ahead of him. This is both unlikely and just screams for a speedy forward to rip us to shreds. So the impetus may be on Cesar to shield the center backs even better than he has all season as the partnership between the two won't be near as crisp as before. Expect Lawrence Olum to start in the back and hope he performs better than his cup of tea against New England and certainly better than the pairing for Orlando City. Then, the pressure is on Collin to both dominate and not over-extend himself. He can be a card waiting to happen and losing any bit of his edge could spell trouble for Sporting KC. It goes without saying that no one can replace his throw-ins that are instrumental for a team that has needed additional ways of scoring this season.
It's certainly not pretty in the meantime, but in a couple of weeks we may have our starting eleven back on the field and they may even be rejuvenated for a run at both the US Open and MLS Cup.