The one-game-at-a-time mantra may be gone from the Sporting Kansas City locker room. At least for the first month of the season.
With five games on the slate in the first 15 days of the season — starting with Saturday’s MLS opener in Seattle — the Sporting KC coaching staff spent considerable time this preseason determining the best way to keep players fresh and still win matches.
“There are a lot of variables I’m going to have to add into that equation,” coach Peter Vermes said. “... The trick is going to be trying to find the best group for each game that gives us a chance at getting a result and also leaves us enough for the next game.”
Sporting KC also will be charged with balancing the playing time between two different competitions. Two of its first four matches are against Cruz Azul, its opponent in the quarterfinals series of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Sporting KC used a reserve-heavy lineup to win its group and advance to the knockout stage, but it plans to fully purse a potential Champions League trophy. No MLS team has ever won the Champions League.
“Nobody should be thinking we’re not going to go in there with a full team,” Vermes said. “Because we are.”
Well, at least as much as fresh legs allow.
“Five games in 15 days is pretty hard in the middle of the season when you’re fit, let alone the beginning (of the season),” defender Chance Myers said. “The nice thing is we have a lot of guys who can step right in and play meaningful minutes.”
It’s an issue that could linger beyond the opening month. If Sporting KC wins the series against Cruz Azul, it would play a semifinal series in April. The club also has emphasized making another deep run in the U.S. Open Cup, which it last won in 2012.
In other words, the team’s depth is likely to be tested. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“Our depth is incredible — I think it matches any other MLS team out there,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “So I think that plays a big part. That’s an important piece to our organization.”