If there were any lingering questions about Sporting Kansas City’s fitness level and ability to play through the summer heat, they were answered – in no uncertain terms – during Sporting’s US Open Cup semifinal win over Philadelphia.
Of manager Peter Vermes’ first XI for Wednesday’s 2-0 away victory, all but one started four days earlier in Saturday’s scoreless home draw against Houston. Of those 10 who started both games, all but one – forward Kei Kamara – went the full 90 against the Dynamo in triple-digit temperatures at Livestrong Sporting Park.
And of those nine remaining players, not one left the pitch against the Union before the final whistle. Vermes made only one sub in the semifinal, lifting Teal Bunbury for C.J. Sapong shortly after the hour mark. Everyone else went 90 minutes.
“That’s one of the things with this group of guys,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com by phone after Sporting reached the Open Cup final for the first time since winning it in 2004. “The fitness is something that the guys worked on in the offseason and continue to work on it now. They take it very seriously. They take their bodies very seriously. It’s their lifeblood. It helps them recover quicker and maintain pretty high-intensity games in very, very warm weather at home.”
Although Vermes is usually loath to discuss his lineup plans, he did acknowledge on Wednesday that Saturday’s starting XI for a league match at Columbus (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) could look quite a bit different from the one that took the pitch against Philadelphia – especially with a visit to Houston looming just four days after that.
“We have some other players who are going to have to step up and perform this upcoming game,” Vermes said. "This was a battle. It was a grind. I’m glad we didn’t have to go into overtime. That saved us some energy. Now we’ll rest these guys over the next couple of days, to get them ready for Houston.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.