Connect with us

Sporting KC

With Ndenbe Hurt, Who Plays Left Back?

A look at all the left back and creative replacement options for Logan Ndenbe, since he’s out for the next seven to nine months.



Sporting KC, Logan Ndenbe, St. Louis City SC
Credit: Thad Bell

Since May 1st, Sporting Kansas City has been the best team in the Western Conference and one of the best teams in Major League Soccer. And over the last month plus, Logan Ndenbe has been one of the best players on the team. That made the news of his torn ACL in the second straight win over St. Louis City SC extra shocking.

With Ndenbe set to be out for the next seven to nine months, Sporting KC need an immediate replacement for their next playoff game and potentially some longer-term depth for a good chunk of next season. Let’s take a look at all the options currently on the roster, and one off-roster option for next year.

The Obvious Choice: Tim Leibold

In the aftermath of Peter Vermes announcing that Ndenbe would be undergoing surgery, the question of Leibold’s health was immediately brought up. He had been on the injury report in recent weeks. First, with an unexpected illness and then with a groin injury. However, Vermes assured everyone he could have played last match had he been needed, despite not appearing in the matchday roster.

That seemingly makes Leibold the starter. He has three weeks to continue to work on fitness and build chemistry with his backline partners. However, getting to 90 minutes fitness with no games feels like a stretch. He hasn’t appeared in an MLS match since the 1-0 road win over Minnesota United on September 16th. By the time the next round of the playoffs rolls around, he’ll have been out for more than two months.

Additionally, that game against MNUFC was a 17-minute cameo on the heels of a 15-minute cameo against Inter Miami. He hasn’t started and played 90 minutes since the 4-1 loss to Toluca in Leagues Cup back on August 4th.

For that reason, someone else will probably need to sub in at some point. Let’s look at some candidates for those minutes.

Roger Espinoza

The 37-year-old, who plans to stick around as long as KC will have him, actually first got minutes with the Kansas City Wizards as a left back. He even returned there for a few spot appearances this season. He’s left footed and he’s a savvy and responsible veteran. Plus, he can absolutely deliver a dime of a pass when needed.

He’s not going to get up and down the field like Ndenbe or Leibold, but he has the sense to be defensively responsible. The team could do worse than Roger with these minutes. Plus, he’s not going to have to start, he’d just need to come on when Leibold can’t go any further.

Robert Voloder

Robi got a few starts at left back early in the year when Ndenbe was hurt, Leibold wasn’t fit, and Ben Sweat was a disaster. He’s definitely much better at center back, but in a pinch, he could do the trick. He isn’t the attacker that Leibold or Ndenbe have become, but he does have a wicked shot if he gets up the field. While he’s not as used to being a left back, he is used to being a left-sided center back and there are skills that can translate over.

It’s not my preference, but it’s not the worst option. If they need to close out a game where they are ahead, he’s taller than any of the other options and better in the air. But his propensity for mistakes gives me pause.

Graham Zusi

While he’s right footed, it shouldn’t be ruled out as an option he could switch sides. Vermes has done it before (Jaylin Lindsey at LB, a cameo for Leibold at RB). I won’t take credit for this idea, as I saw Nathan Martin start a discussion on Twitter about it.

It’s not my first choice, but like Espinoza, he’s an intelligent player who Peter can probably trust here. I still think I like a left footed player more because they are so comfortable using the sideline better with their touch and positioning.

Emergency Offense: Erik Thommy

I could lump Daniel Salloi into this header too. They are both left-sided players who like to play on the left wing. They are both actually right footed, but this would only be if Sporting KC are trailing. They could combine in the left-side of the attack and allow more attacking players on (Kinda for Thommy’s usual midfield spot or Pulido drops in and Agada plays up top).

They are both hardworking enough to give defensive effort, but this would solely be if Sporting are chasing the game.

Long-Term Depth: Nati Clarke

MLS rosters are set for the rest of the 2023 playoffs with the roster freeze having passed in September. However, the team will be without Ndenbe well into the next summer and will need more depth than just one left back (Leibold) that is currently on the roster.

In steps Nati Clarke. The 18-year-old has played his way through the SKC Academy and spent much of the 2023 season on Sporting KC II under head coach Benny Feilhaber. While he struggled at left back early in the season, he became a steady contributor as the year wore on. He ultimately was named to the MLS Next All-Star team and was Sporting KC’s MLS Next player of the year.

Clarke would be solid depth that would reside off the books as a Homegrown player. While he’s only 5’6, he plays above his height, he’s stout and has an endless motor.

In fact, I had been toying with the idea in my mind that the team should consider Clarke even before the Ndenbe injury. It seemed that such a breakout playoff performance from Logan was sure to attract international eyes considering he’s a Belgium youth international already. It wasn’t out of the question a team could come in and drop some money to make a transfer bid for Ndenbe. The injury, will sadly, be a setback for those hopes.


Leibold is the guy, but he doesn’t have 90 minutes in him. Roger is my preferred backup, unless they are chasing a goal, and even then, I don’t hate him in that spot. Nati Clarke is one for the future to get through next year and prepare for the eventual sale of Ndenbe.

And this is vaguely related, with Logan Ndenbe being a badass talking about playing on his torn ACL. But in reality, I just want to share that Patrick Mahomes reposted me. Well over half a million views on my Tweet. I’m internet famous y’all. It’ll go straight to my head.


Recent Comments

KC Soccer Journal in your Inbox!

Be the first to know when news breaks, sign up to get all of our posts sent directly to your inbox.


Follow us on Twitter