Sporting Kansas City might be expected to take it easy the final month of the season with a relatively safe five-point lead in the Eastern Conference title race and a second straight postseason berth assured.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
But manager Peter Vermes was emphatic this week that he had no intention of letting up.
“We’re going to play,” Vermes said. “We’ve got to play.”
With the San Jose Earthquakes stumbling down the stretch, winning the Supporter’s Shield as overall MLS regular-season champions isn’t out of reach, either.
Sporting KC, 17-7-7, which already set club record for wins in regulation and points in a season (58), trails the ’Quakes, 18-6-7, by three points.
“We’re still fighting for the top of the division so we have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and we’re also still chasing the Supporter’s Shield, so those are all important things for us,” Vermes said. “But I wouldn’t expect our approach to be any different because of the consistency we’ve had all season.”
Still, there is a certain weight lifted off the shoulders of the entire club, which claimed its second Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship two months ago and will get a crack at the MLS Cup.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” midfielder Roger Espinoza said. “It started last year in the middle of the season and ever since we’ve been doing pretty well. … You can see the guys smiling on the field and at practice. When you win games, you’re going to have fun.”
That said, the main prize — a Phillip F. Anschutz Trophy to go with the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy the club won during the 2000 season — remains the driving force for Sporting KC.
Last week, forward Kei Kamara and midfielders Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza and Peterson Joseph were ordered to take a three-day break not just from training, but from soccer, period.
All four have seen national-team duty throughout the season — significant duty, in some cases. That means when the players not in a national-team camp were resting, Kamara (Sierra Leone), Zusi (U.S.), Espinoza (Honduras) and Joseph (Haiti) were still plugging away.
MLS will take a 10-day break after Sunday’s game for the next window of World Cup qualifiers, but that could mean more training for Sporting KC’s quartet.
“A week ago, I gave all those guys three days, where they had to leave town and weren’t allowed to watch any soccer or do anything physical at all,” Vermes said. “I just wanted them to go hang out, so I think that was a good thing mentally for them as well.”
Convey could make appearance
Left winger Bobby Convey could return Sunday from a two-month absence.
He missed two months early in the season with a calf injury before returning as a late-game sub July 18 at Houston.
Convey, who has played in 15 games in his first season with Sporting KC, started the next three games but came off with a hamstring injury after just seven minutes on Aug. 4 at New England. That was his most recent appearance.
“Bobby’s there now,” Vermes said. “I haven’t made the 18(-man roster) yet, but I feel good about considering him for the 18. I was much more concerned last week, because I didn’t feel like he had the minutes in him. But I feel much better this week.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.