KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With five matches in the first 15 days of their season, including a crucial two-legged CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, Sporting Kansas City will have to put their depth and their trademark fitness to the test right out of the gate.
The defending MLS Cup champs say they're ready, from the top of the roster down.
“Any time you play that many games in that short a time, it's going to be difficult,” left back Seth Sinovic told MLSsoccer.com at Tuesday's annual media day. “But we've built a really strong team and a really deep team over the past couple of years. I think most, if not all the guys are going to be counted on for these first couple of weeks.”
Sporting return all of their key outfield players from last year's run to the MLS Cup title and have been working in the preseason to integrate their new arrivals – especially winger Sal Zizzo, acquired in an offseason trade with Portland – into their high-pressing 4-3-3 setup.
“We've obviously played with one another for the past couple of years, but there's going to be guys playing minutes coming up that haven't played that much in the past,” right back Chance Myers said. “It's on the guys around that guy to help him and to integrate him into the system. It's been pretty seamless for the most part, and that's something we take pride in.”
Sporting open MLS play Saturday in Seattle (3 pm ET; NBCSN), then return to Sporting Park for a midweek matchup with Mexico's Cruz Azul in the first leg of the CCL quarters (8 pm ET; Fox Sports 2). The early grind continues with home league matches against FC Dallas on March 15 and San Jose on March 22, sandwiched around the return quarterfinal leg in Mexico City on March 19.
That means a lot of decision making for manager Peter Vermes as he draws up his match-day rosters – especially with winger C.J. Sapong working to get back from a leg contusion, Sinovic coming out of Sporting's final preseason match as a precaution with tightness in his hip and winger Soony Saad (Lebanon) and fullback Mechack Jerome (Haiti) coming off international matches on Wednesday.
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“We're definitely going to have to manage minutes for the players, and then also take into consideration that going up to Seattle we're going to be playing on turf,” Vermes told reporters. “So there are a lot of variables you have to add into the equation. At the end, there's no doubt that there's a strategy per game, and also looking long-term at what we want to do.”
The good thing, midfielder Graham Zusi said, is that Sporting's short turnaround and intensive preseason fitness work have the club set to hit the season running.
“We played an awful lot of games,” Zusi said. “We set up the schedule so we'd play every Wednesday-Saturday, like we will be in the coming weeks. So I think we'll be up for it. We'll be ready.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting KC for MLSsoccer.com.