Offseason work has SKC core a step ahead of the game

Sporting's Matt Besler

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Between the constantly overlapping runs and the demand for shift-on-the-fly versatility, Sporting Kansas City’s 4-3-3 setup places a premium on both technique and fitness.

So far in preseason training, dramatic improvement in the latter category has enabled the team to focus on the former.

“I would say overall that this is the fittest the team has ever been coming back for preseason,” manager Peter Vermes said last week, before Sporting departed for their warm-weather training site in Tucson, Ariz.

In large part, that’s because a core group of players spent most of the winter break working out in the Kansas City area. Defenders Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic, both locals, were joined by right back Chance Myers and midfielders Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza for intense fitness training that began shortly after Thanksgiving.

“The mindset was to get back here and get to work as soon as possible,” Myers said. “I feel like I’m coming back where I left off – much fitter, much sharper. We’ve been training two or three weeks with the ball before we ever came into camp, which puts us a step ahead of past years.”

Besler organized the unofficial camp and based the workouts on his offseason program in 2010-11.

“Chance is a California boy, and Zusi’s from Florida,” he said. “They were a little bit scared of the weather, but I think they saw how I came in last offseason and they wanted to make sure that they put in the work this offseason. I just told them, ‘Hey, it’s a lot easier when you’re working out in a group than when you’re working out by yourself.’”

One key element of the sessions: “We did a lot of stairs,” Besler said. “My theory on that is that you’re building strength and you’re also doing cardio. That’s a lot of what soccer is. You’re using those leg muscles, but you’re also running the whole time.”

And while the players were motivated in part by Sporting’s 2-0 loss to Houston in last year’s Eastern Conference title game, Zusi told MLSSoccer.com by phone that he wouldn’t mind the extra work becoming an offseason tradition.

“If we come in fit and we show we’ve worked out hard in the offseason, we can get right into tactics and just playing,” he said. “That’s what everyone wants to do. They don’t want to do conditioning drills. They want to play.”

That’s the mindset Sporting’s staff has tried to instill since Vermes took over as manager in August 2009, fitness coach Mateus Manoel said.

“It comes down to culture,” said Manoel, who helped Besler plan the workouts. “We set the stone in a couple of years ago. The expectation was that the guys had to show up to camp at a level that would allow them to get into soccer activities right away, instead of for a week or two having to run these guys into the ground to get them to a level where it’s even acceptable to start doing things with the ball.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.