Peter Vermes has assembled a side capable of attacking from the moment the back line gains possession. The challenge now is making sure Sporting Kansas City’s young defensive corps knows when to make those runs and when to stay home.
“It’s something we’ve been working on in the preseason,” Vermes said on Tuesday in a conference call from Sporting’s training camp in Tucson, Ariz. “You have to have that balance. We’re an entertaining team, which means we go forward a lot, but you have to recognize when to go forward.”
That’s been a particular focus in this camp, All-Star defender Matt Besler said, because it was a problem early last season before Sporting rode a late surge into the Eastern Conference Championship.
“At the beginning of the year, I think we pressed little too much, attacked too much, left things open in the back,” Besler said. “That was in the stretch where we were giving up easy goals and goals late. We found that rhythm last season and hopefully we’ll find it early this season.”
Vermes knows about defensive cohesion firsthand, having centered the back line on a 2000 team that posted 22 shutouts, conceded less than a goal per game and won Kansas City’s only MLS Cup.
“He just has a lot more credibility for us,” said Besler. “We respect everything he says. He’s been there before, he’s won a championship and he’s done it with defense.”
Kansas City used a three-man line of Nick Garcia, Vermes and Brandon Prideaux that year, a far cry from Sporting’s current 4-3-3 set. Still, Vermes said, some principles never change, including the need to maintain focus throughout a match.
That’s something his team still needs to nail down, he said.
“Defending is playing every roll of the ball and knowing which position you need to be in,” Vermes said. “If you’re playing every roll of the ball and everyone’s very disciplined, it’s very hard for other teams to score goals on you. There have been times we lose concentration in those areas.”
Nevertheless, Vermes believes his team's back line has the skill and depth to be one of the club’s strengths this year.
“Right now, between Chance Myers, Michael Harrington, Seth Sinovic and Korede Aiyegbusi, we’ve got four very good players who can give us a good impact at the outside back position," he said. “In the middle, with Besler and [Aurélien] Collin, one guy is a little more finesse and one is a little more brute force. That’s a good combination, and it helps that Besler is left-footed.
“I feel very comfortable with our ability in the air as well, and we’ve also got Júlio César, who can play every position left to right as well as the defensive midfield," Vermes added.
Besler also likes the depth at defender.
“No matter who steps in, I’m going to be comfortable with that,” the fourth-year man said. “Right now, I feel like we’re in a pretty good spot.”