Peter Vermes: Sporting Kansas City to "give everything we have" in Leagues Cup

As Sporting Kansas City prepare to begin their 2021 Leagues Cup campaign against Club León on Tuesday at Children's Mercy Park (8 pm ET | ESPN2, TUDN), the focus is simple for Peter Vermes' team.

"I think as an organization we always try to put front and center winning as our No. 1 objective," SKC's head coach said ahead of the match. "So obviously this is a competition that we are participating in and we're going to try to give everything we have. I feel that we're going to put a team on the field that has the ability to win and we'll do our best in the game."

In-season competitions like Leagues Cup are always a balancing act, to be sure. While Sporting KC have their eyes on a trophy and the bragging rights that would come with raising silverware, they also have to be mindful of fixture congestion during the ongoing MLS season.

That means striking the right notes between an XI that includes first-team regulars with big-game experience, but also picking the right youngsters and depth pieces who are hungry for an opportunity.

"Obviously we know we're playing a very strong opponent in León, but again when you have a roster and you have players everybody has to participate at some point in the season – you saw that over the weekend against Colorado – and so we'll continue to try to manage our group the best way possible," Vermes said. "But whatever game we're playing, the next one is the most important one and right now our game tomorrow night is the most important one in front of us."

It all sets up to be an interesting dynamic between Liga MX sides that are just starting their league campaigns and MLS sides that are in full rhythm.

In terms of who stands to benefit from that, Vermes said it can be looked at in two ways: While MLS teams might be more in-form, Liga MX clubs might be healthier and fresher.

"We all participate in different ways in all these competitions," said Vermes. "Some might say that they're fortunate because they're starting out in the beginning of their season, everybody's healthy, the players are hungry, they haven't spent a lot of time playing games. We have an incredibly congested schedule at the moment, so it's also difficult managing the roster. I think everybody has their challenges no matter what the situation is. We have ours, I'm sure they have theirs and that's why we're competing in the game tomorrow."

The León matchup is a tricky one for Sporting, who are meeting a Liga MX heavyweight that won the 2020 Torneo Guardianes. They competed in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League, where they fell against Toronto FC in the Round of 16.

"They're something that's always indicative about a lot of Mexican teams," Vermes said. "They have a very good sense for the game, their teams have great instincts, they're usually very well-organized and then the other piece is that they have a really good sense for when they need to step on the gas pedal in a game and when they can take their foot off the gas pedal. In so many ways they can hurt you in the game. With teams like León, you have to be good with the ball, you can't give the ball up in dangerous areas because they have so many weapons in their arsenal.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Mexican teams and Liga MX because their competition is very difficult. They have a lot of really good foreign players also in their team and they do a really good job of adapting and adjusting to that league and they play at a very high level. So we know it's going to be a really big challenge for us in the game."

Sporting KC forward Alan Pulido is plenty familiar with León as a veteran of Liga MX from stints with Tigres UANL and Chivas Guadalajara, saying through a translator on Monday that he's looking forward to the opportunity to test himself.

Leagues Cup is in its second year of competition, with Liga MX's Cruz Azul winning in 2019 and the 2020 version canceled on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. The final will be held on September 22 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

"I think that the competition between the leagues shows a lot of growth for the league in general," Pulido said." It will be a different kind of game and a different experience, but overall it will be great exposure for the young players. I think it's also important to expose ourselves to international teams and this high level of play. Overall, it will just be a really great thing for our league as a whole and hopefully I feel good about the game and winning."