An hour before every Sporting Kansas City match, the club’s coaches huddle in a room inside Children’s Mercy Park and analyze an opponent’s recently unveiled starting lineup. The assumption is that the adversary does the same.
In the chess match of coaching, respective staffs often go to extreme lengths to conceal their starting lineups — until they must be released an hour before game time.
For Sporting Kansas City this week, the suspicion is nearly gone. And it’s been that way for its entire CONCACAF Champions League schedule.
Sporting KC will play host to Vancouver at 7 p.m. Tuesday in its third CCL game. And just like the previous two, Sporting KC is coming off a regular-season Major League Soccer match that took place within the previous four days.
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“You can’t (use players in both competitions). You would be risking your players,” coach Peter Vermes said.
True to his word, Sporting KC has refrained from using its regulars in both competitions. The schedule has essentially forced the coaching staff to rank the importance of the MLS season in conjunction with the CCL competition.
The numbers show Vermes has opted for MLS. There are 12 players on the Sporting KC roster who have started at least half of the team’s MLS matches this season. Eight — Dom Dwyer, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi, Jacob Peterson, Jimmy Medranda, Ike Opara, Lawrence Olum and Tim Melia — did not play a single minute during the first two CCL group stage games.
“I don’t think there’s a club in the world that doesn’t take their league seriously,” Vermes said. “The margin of error for any team is so close that you have to be very careful. You need to win games. You need to (get) points in your league.”
Sporting KC certainly cannot afford to shift that focus now. With five matches left in the MLS season, it sits in fifth place in the Western Conference with 39 points, only five ahead of seventh-place Vancouver. The top six teams in the conference standings qualify for the postseason next month.
But the effort to maintain its playoff spot has subsequently hindered Sporting KC’s chances to advance in the CCL competition. In the three-team group, Vancouver has amassed six points after the first wave of the double round-robin. Sporting KC has just one. Sporting KC needs a pair of victories to close out group play and would still need some help.
Teams within the CCL group were offered the chance to submit proposals for this year’s schedule. Sporting KC players and coaches alike voiced their displeasure with the final result from CONCACAF and MLS, which they believe prevented them from more comfortably cycling between the two competitions. The schedule asks Sporting KC to enter all four of its CCL matches on only two or three days rest.
“I think from the very get-go, the way the scheduling was done for this tournament was done incredibly unprofessionally,” Vermes said. “I think the schedule is horrendous — the way that we have to play with such short notice.”