KANSAS CITY, Kan. – After a pair of solid shutout wins in a span of three days, Sporting Kansas City are showing that their mantra of "being Sporting fit" is a tangible thing.
There's fit and then Sporting fit, which means two things for the players under Peter Vermes' tutelage: Regular starters had better be able to keep it up over the course of the season; and less frequently used players had better be ready to step in at a high fitness level when they're called upon.
That devotion to conditioning showed in Sporting's last two outings, as they regained first place in the Eastern Conference just three days after a successful trip to Central America.
"It's huge in a lot of respects," manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday's training session. "It talks a lot about depth. It talks a lot about experience that we're getting. It talks about those guys being able to get results, no matter who's on the field. That's the thing that we're striving for, for sure."
Five players – defenders Aurélien Collin and Seth Sinovic, midfielders Uri Rosell and Benny Feilhaber, and forward Soony Saad – started both Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League opening 2-0 win in Esteli, Nicaragua, and Saturday's 3-0 league victory over the New England Revolution.
Four other players who appeared in the victory over Real Estelí also played against the Revolution.
"We say our players need to be Sporting fit," Vermes said in Saturday's postmatch news conference. "It's something we take a lot of pride in. The other piece of it is that we managed the trip very well. Thanks to the ownership, we had a private plane, which helped immensely on our travel. Getting the result boosted our confidence. The guys did well with the quick turnaround, that's for sure."
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For Feilhaber, who went the full 90 – and scored a stoppage-time goal on a bending free kick – against the Revs after working a solid 70 minutes in CONCACAF play, that turnaround was the final proof that he has reached Sporting's fitness standard.
"I told you a couple of weeks ago that I think I'm getting to where I want to be, and I think I'm there, but at the same time, I think fitness is something t hat you work on throughout the season – at least it is for me," Feilhaber said afterward. "Some guys, I think, can kind of use the games. I think I need to continue and kind of polish it up, and I'm going to continue to do that.
"There's always room for improvement in that aspect for me, and I want to be able to play 90 minutes every single week. We have a lot of games coming up."
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.