KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sporting Kansas City won’t field a first-choice lineup Tuesday night against the Richmond Kickers (8:30 pm ET, streamed live online at sportingkc.com), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t taking the US Open Cup seriously.
Far from it, in fact.
Kansas City would cherish the opportunity to move past Richmond in the quarterfinals at LiveStrong Sporting Park and move on to their first Open Cup semifinal since 2004, but manager Peter Vermes (pictured above) is also aware of the current situation in which his squad finds itself.
He’s approaching Kansas City’s third game in seven days with the knowledge that his players can’t play 90 minutes every few days in sweltering heat and still be expected to power through what is an already packed summer schedule.
”I don’t think I’m tipping my hand,” Vermes said. “I just think it’s a reality. We’re going to go to try to win that game for sure, but I’ve got to be very smart about which players I put into the lineup.”
Graham Zusi, who has been playing through an ankle injury for the past few weeks, is just one of the regulars expected to play the role of spectator. Sporting last played just three days ago and have a difficult road game to Houston coming up on Saturday with the temperature expected to reach triple digits.
But even with a pared-down lineup, Kansas City should have plenty of firepower with which to work.
Teal Bunbury should start after playing mostly as a substitute for the past few weeks, and Vermes has plenty of faith in his other fringe players after the roster juggling that occurred during the Gold Cup and various injuries.
Despite Richmond’s second-division status, Vermes knows any 11 he fields will have to be at its best to compete with what promises to be a hungry Kickers team.
“It will be a big game for them, and they’ll be up for it,” he said. “There isn’t a team that we come up against that we don’t respect. This is just another one of those challenges.”
In Richmond’s case, the respect is certainly deserved. The Kickers may be the last club from outside Major League Soccer still in the competition, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the definite underdog.
They are second in USL PRO’s American Division with 30 points (9-5-3) and even knocked off the Columbus Crew 2-1 at Crew Stadium in the previous round on a late goal by Matthew Delicate (seven goals, three assists on the season).
“They are a team that come to play,” Vermes added. “I think they are very organized defensively and are a pretty good counterattacking team. It’s not going to be an easy game for us by any means.”
However, like Kansas City, Richmond are dealing with schedule congestion as well. Tuesday’s match will be their third in five days, and fourth in eight. Richmond’s expected fatigue, combined with Sporting’s obvious financial advantages and home fans, would make anything other than a victory a disappointment.
“There is no doubt we want to win and get to the next round,” said Vermes. “We’re going to fight for that.”