Sporting KC: Felipe Gutierrez injury sends midfield into scramble

Sporting KC, Felipe Gutierrez (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Sporting KC, Felipe Gutierrez (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

A feeling of great comfort has suddenly turned with the season-ending injury of Felipe Gutierrez. The Sporting KC midfield could be sent into a scramble.

Sporting Kansas City announced Tuesday afternoon that star midfielder Felipe Gutierrez will be out for the next seven-nine months after undergoing successful surgery to repair a cartilage defect in his knee. With this season-ending injury, more opportunities could open up for virtually unknown players like Wan Kuzain, Felipe Hernandez, and Cameron Duke.

This news isn’t greatly surprising considering the Chilean missed four preseason matches and both regular-season matches before the COVID-19 delay. Manager Peter Vermes was hoping that it would heal on its own but said that it was the same thing that Jimmy Medranda was dealing with in 2018 and that it now requires surgery.

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Major League Soccer also announced the structure for the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando. While the groups aren’t set yet, Sporting is confirmed to play three Western Conference foes between July 8 and July 24. The knockout stages will take place from July 25 until August 11 with plans to return to home venues for the rest of a revised regular season and the MLS Cup Playoffs.

So, what does all this mean for Sporting KC?

The untimely loss of Gutierrez means more opportunities for others. The first-choice midfield trio will consist of Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, and Gadi Kinda with Gianluca Busio as the first midfield replacement. Outside of those four midfielders, the options are limited to very little experience with Felipe Hernandez, Cameron Duke, and Wan Kuzain, each of whom are all far from the starting XI in an ideal world.

Another option Peter Vermes might want to consider is returning Graham Zusi to the midfield. The former American international made a name for himself as a midfielder and winger before his move to right back in 2017. This would allow Jaylin Lindsey the opportunity to slot in at right-back.

From the forward line, you could see Johnny Russell or Gerso Fernandes sacrificed to the midfield or defender Andreu Fontas could step into the holding midfielder role if Ilie needs a break. Fontas still has a lot to prove after a disappointing 2019 campaign.

Ultimately, SKC’s ability to deal with this injury will rest on Ilie remaining healthy and playing well. Last season, he struggled, lacking sharpness to get around the pitch and failing to provide that smoothing distribution and control that he is known for. It showed in the results until Gutierrez was able to relieve Ilie later in the season.

With a condensed schedule and five substitutions available per game, there will have to be some sort of rotation at some point. While Sporting KC seemed to be sailing smoothly two games into the season, it could quickly turn into a disaster with any more injuries in the midfield.

With the added changes in a situation that is far from comfortable with anyone, Peter Vermes’ tactical awareness will be tested like never before, which many believe to be the weakest part of his coaching abilities.

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Nevertheless, Sporting KC started the 2020 season in hot form without Gutierrez. They will hope to continue when MLS returns next month. And with talent aplenty coming through, they will be alright, for now.