The morning practice schedule was pushed back two hours Thursday, but by the time Sporting Kansas City players arrived, they were still only 12 hours removed from celebrating a U.S. Open Cup semifinal win. For some, postgame treatments followed the victory — extended time on the massage table or in the ice bath.
Coach Peter Vermes had wanted to offer his players a day off, which was less a reward for the emotional, penalty-kick victory against San Jose and more along the lines of providing much-needed rest.
He wasn’t afforded that opportunity.
Sporting Kansas City travels to play the streaking Seattle Sounders at 3 p.m. Saturday, a match that will have implications on the top of the table in the Western Conference. By the end of the weekend, five teams could be tied for first place in the West, and two of them are set to meet at CenturyLink Field in the Pacific Northwest.
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As of Thursday, Vermes wasn’t certain which players would be traveling along with him to Seattle. As of Friday, he still wasn’t sure which ones he would use in the match.
“It’s going to be really difficult to determine,” Vermes said. “We’re really going to have to wait until the last minute just to see what the group is going to look like for this game (and) just to see who’s available physically.”
It’s Sporting Kansas City’s third match in seven days, though it’s hard to blame the schedule-makers. Really, the team itself has to shoulder some of the responsibility.
By advancing in the Open Cup tournament, Sporting KC congested its own schedule. A draw against Atlanta United FC on Sunday came in MLS play before the Open Cup semifinal on Wednesday. The club is back to MLS action on Saturday, and this quick turnaround requires a lengthy plane ride, too.
As far back as late last week, Vermes was mapping out a potential plan to keep players fresh and earn results in all three matches. But pregame — or pre-week — plans can go only predict so much. Sporting KC and San Jose played an extra half hour Wednesday and then experienced the tension of six rounds of penalty kicks.
Five Sporting KC field players who played the full 120 minutes Wednesday — center backs Ike Opara and Matt Besler, midfielders Roger Espinoza and Ilie Sanchez and forward Latif Blessing — also did not leave the field Sunday against Atlanta. Those five have already logged 210 minutes this week. Benny Feilhaber and Gerso Fernandes have totaled more than 160.
“That’s all going to have an effect, for sure,” Vermes said. “The fact we went 120 (minutes), and then you have to include the penalty kicks because there’s an emotional aspect there that can take a lot out of you. Then the game (in Seattle on Saturday) is in the afternoon, so that hurts us. So there’s a lot of little pieces in there. Some guys can deal with it quickly. Other guys, depending on their positions, expended a lot of energy this week. We’ll just have to be smart with it and wait and see.”