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Sporting KC will have to overcome another injury in attempt to regain physical edge

Sporting KC finished a five-match, 14-day stretch with a sour taste in Saturday’s 4-0 loss to St. Louis City SC. The result was a sharp contrast compared to what the club had compiled in its previous four matches.

The starters were rested and rotated once in an Open Cup loss, which was sandwiched between two convincing wins over the Seattle Sounders (2-1) on the road and Minnesota United (3-0) at home. Sporting also tacked on an impressive showing in a 1-1 draw with LAFC that drew praise from LAFC star Denis Bouanga.

But Saturday’s match laid bare the effort Sporting (2-8-4, 13th in the West) had to expend in the midst of that physical journey. Even making three changes, a group that had exerted so much physically over the previous 14 days looked out of it against St. Louis, physically and mentally.

“They came out and physically dominated us in that game,” Graham Zusi told reporters on Tuesday. “I think we need to get back to doing that to teams.”

While the mentality has been improved lately, it didn’t translate in the loss to St. Louis. And while there are a multitude of factors that could’ve played into it, Zusi didn’t want to make excuses.

“Pushing all that aside, we still have to compete a little bit better,” Zusi said.

Four of Sporting’s previous five matches were on the road, which means the upcoming stretch should be a little more welcoming. The club will be back at Children’s Mercy Park for the next few matches, first against the Portland Timbers on Sunday afternoon with a 2 p.m. Central kickoff.

Both teams will look different from their season-opening match back in February. Sporting has been bolstered by the return of several key attackers, plus new signings like Nemanja Radoja and Dany Rosero.

Portland (4-4-6, 8th in the West) has gone through its own injury woes this year and has still found a way to get into playoff contention. Portland is also another squad that likes to be physical.

Peter Vermes credited his former teammate Giovanni Savarese’s team for always being excellent defensively, even though they’ve conceded only one fewer goal than Sporting this year.

“(They’re) a team that always finds a way defensively to be very, very tough to play against,” Vermes said. “It’s going to be a big part of our training this week, breaking down a defense like that.”

The Timbers’ goals-against total doesn’t tell the story of who they have been lately. After conceding 10 goals in their first four matches (which included the 1-0 victory over Sporting), Portland has averaged one goal against per match in MLS play, losing only twice.

Another challenge for KC? Playing down another man...

Sporting lose Tim Melia for the foreseeable future

When Tim Melia came off injured against Minnesota United, the thought was it was a simple hip flexor. Scans later last week revealed it was much more than that, and the veteran goalkeeper is expected to miss 3-4 months with what Vermes called an “avulsion of his hip flexor muscle.”

While the injury does not require surgery, it requires a lot of rest and activity management. The nature of how it heals has Vermes looking at the longer side of his estimated return.

While John Pulskamp has been seen as the heir apparent to Melia’s spot and even got a significant run of time to start the 2023 season, Kendall McIntosh has earned the opportunity of late, getting back-to-back starts last week.

Vermes said it’s a competition for minutes right now.

“Kendall has made some very good saves, and John has done the same,” Vermes said. “Each week, it’s gonna be an opportunity for both guys.”