The trip spanned nearly 3,000 miles from airport to airport, and by the time Sporting Kansas City arrived in Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday, the club was fewer than 24 hours removed from its last MLS match but only two days from embarking on a new competition.
Sporting KC will open its CONCACAF Champions League schedule Tuesday against Central FC in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago — a trip that will require heightened awareness. The Caribbean twin-island nation is one of 55 countries with confirmed cases of Zika virus transmission.
The eyes of the sports world have converged on Brazil in recent weeks as the country serves as the host for the Olympics, and the health concerns surrounding Zika has received prominent attention there.
Sporting KC is the latest sports franchise to enter similar territory. According to the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, there are more than 200 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in the country.
“I think we’re just being smart. That’s really it,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview Monday.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention classifies Trinidad and Tobago as Level 2 alert, the same classification Rio, Brazil, received ahead of the Olympics.
But a Central FC player brought the issue in Trinidad and Tobago more publicity in a recent interview. In an overseas article, he alluded to a teammate “who played despite suffering from Zika” during a CONCACAF Champions League match against MLS club Vancouver earlier this month. Vermes said the Sporting KC staff was aware of the comment.
“We did hear about it, but from everything we know from the doctors on our side, they played that game long enough ago that from what we’re told, that’s not really an issue for our game,” Vermes said.
Sporting KC is opening CCL play on Tuesday after qualifying for the competition by winning the U.S. Open Cup last season. It is the third time over the past four years that Sporting KC has participated in the event, all of which have required traveling overseas at least once.
Vermes said the CCL trips are often so short that the team rarely leaves the hotel, and the team would be sticking to such a schedule this time, too.
“We’re basically getting on the bus, going to play a game tomorrow and then coming back and going to our plane,” Vermes said. “Guys wouldn’t be leaving the hotel tonight anyway because we have a game tomorrow. So really it’s no different than any other trip.”