Sporting KC's Vermes: Playing Toluca at altitude in CCL to be "a challenge"

Peter Vermes - serious

Peter Vermes had two immediate thoughts when he watched the 2019 Concacaf Champions League draw on Monday night and saw Sporting Kansas City lined up against Mexico’s Deportivo Toluca.

A tough opponent at altitude.

That’s the way the 2019 season will start for SKC with, on paper, the toughest game for any MLS team in the CCL Round of 16.

The game planning is already underway for Vermes. 

“Interesting how we got that that team right off the bat, but I have been thinking about it,” Vermes said in a phone interview with following the draw. “We do have our preseason set, but there's obviously always changes you can make to that. So we got to figure something out. I'm not sure exactly what that might be.”

Vermes, though, said playing at Estadio Nemesio Diez at 8,800 feet above sea level, will pose similar challenges when Sporting head to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to meet the Colorado Rapids. He may utilize a similar travel plan to avoid the effects of playing at that altitude.

“You don't go in days before, you try to go in as late as possible so that you don't have to deal with it,” he said. “And that could be something that we do as well, just not sure. It’s something I think about over the next couple days and then make some decisions around it.”

Sporting, which booked their spot by winning the 2017 U.S. Open Cup, are making their fourth appearance in the competition and first since 2016-17. Their best outing came in 2013-14 when SKC reached the quarterfinals before bowing out against Cruz Azul.

Toluca, which earned one of Mexico’s four berths in the tournament by being the 2018 Clausura runners up, also are competing in their fourth CCL. They reached the final in 2013-14, losing to Cruz Azul.

While MLS teams in the CCL have to deal with a longer season and another competition, for Sporting, that comes with the territory of finding success.

“We did this before and obviously it’s another competition you’re adding to all the other games you have to play, regular season and obviously U.S. Open Cup and then obviously if you’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, you’ve got that as well,” Vermes said.

The other wrinkle is that the two-legged series will take place in February, when Sporting KC are still in preseason, while Toluca will have already played several meaningful matches in their league.

As difficult as it will be for SKC to play at Toluca at altitude, Vermes is hoping the weather conditions in late February at Children’s Mercy Park should be beneficial for his side.

“I’d like to think so,” Vermes said. “You always try to take advantage of being at home, it doesn’t always go your way. You still have to play and win and everything else that goes with it.  In any competition like this, a two-legged series, obviously the first [away] game has a lot of impact so it will be interesting to see how we manage that first and then we’ll take it from there.”