Sporting Kansas City are one of five Major League Soccer teams to announce a return individual workouts at team facilities this week, and are looking to stay at the forefront as MLS plots a return to play, including as a potential hub for games if they were to be played at one or several neutral sites.
In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, team president and CEO Jake Reid discussed the league’s return to training, as well as potential scenarios that could unfold as the league and its 26 clubs plot a course back to playing a 2020 season that has been suspended since March 12 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. One of the proposals that has been floated in many professional sports leagues, both in North America and abroad, is playing league games in one central location. And Reid touted Kansas City as a strong candidate to host should that scenario come to pass.
“[There are] definitely conversations and we’ve had good talks about being in the mix if that’s the route they go down,” he said. “I think facility-wise and infrastructure-wise we’re as well-positioned as anyone.”
He acknowledged that Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida, would be “best-suited” for such an undertaking given its size, but highlighted the Kansas City metro area’s ample hotels and training facilities, the latter including SKC’s own Pinnacle National Development Center, which opened in January 2018 and features five full-sized fields, as well as the Swope Park Soccer Village, the nine-field complex where SKC’s USL affiliate trains.
Reid added: “We’ve had great conversations with the league, no indication of where we would be in the hierarchy there, but we’re certainly in the consideration set if they decide to go to kind of multi-city setup.”
Still, there is a lot that has to happen before any decision on a format and location for a return to play is made. Reid readily acknowledged on the call that many options remain on the table, and that the overarching goal now is “getting back as soon as we can when it’s safe to do so.”
“I’ve lost track of the scenarios we’ve been through,” he said. “It’s changed so much. If you look two weeks ago, we didn’t have state re-opening plans, we didn’t know a phase-out timeline, you’re starting to see all these come out now, particularly in our region amongst others.”
Reid also noted that he is on multiple league calls per day, as well as being part of multiple committees that are attempting to help navigate the league and its clubs through the ongoing situation.
“Ultimately what I think we’re trying to do is put all possibilities on the table so we know when we can jump one way or the other, we’re ready and we’re not trying to figure it out from scratch,” he explained. “You’ve had everything from return to play in-market [and] closed doors — what does that look like fitting in fans? — to a regional strategy of going to one city to two cities to four cities to try to get into an area where it’s maybe not as impacted.”
There’s also the question of what a 2020 MLS season might look like from a competition standpoint. Play is currently suspended through June 8, but Reid acknowledged that it's far from a guarantee that the ball will be rolling by then.
“We could play a full season if we started next month. Will that happen? Who knows. I think as long as we could get something going on by late summer or early fall, we could have some semblance of a season.”
For the time being, the mood at SKC has been lifted simply by stepping back on the field.
“It was kind of like kids on Christmas showing up to presents under the tree,” Reid said of Wednesday’s return to training. “Getting back, everyone was super-excited just to be there doing something. Very well-received, very exciting for the guys to get back out there and start at least doing anything outside of their home workouts they’ve been confined to.”
The Sporting exec also noted that manager and sporting director Peter Vermes and his staff had been “league leaders” on setting up the protocols for safe individual training, including the division of the field into four quadrants and strict rules against the sharing of equipment, even including stray balls.
The next big hurdle to clear after getting back to individual training — and well before playing any games — is simply being able to graduate to training in small groups, which Reid said will necessitate COVID-19 testing capabilities that the team does not yet have.
“We don’t have tests for everyone yet,” he said. “We’re trying to secure tests. Ultimately if we get back to the group stage that’ll be completely critical. We cannot go back to any type of group training until we have testing.”