The big moment came on Wednesday night, while Sporting Kansas City players were at home enjoying what little is left of their offseason.
It happened 3,000 miles away at the historic Estadio Azteco in Mexico City.
Sporting KC’s MLS opening day opponent, Seattle Sounders FC, dropped the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against reigning champion Club America, eliminating Seattle from the tournament.
If you’re wondering why that is a big deal, consider this: It’s been 18 weeks, or 128 days, since Sporting KC last took the field for a competitive match, but only four days for the Sounders.
“There’s no doubt that they have a leg up because they played two games,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said at Sporting KC’s media day. “That helps them and their rhythm and everything else.”
So does Vermes prefer the early competition the CONCACAF Champions League brings, or would he rather have a full preseason to prepare for MLS play?
“I like the ability to play games. I love it,” he said. “The difference is I don’t think that competition suits us because we’re just starting our seasons. I don’t think any of our teams are ever ready and they’re not in form. They’re trying to jump into a competition that doesn’t work for us timing wise. But I just know I like to play real, competitive matches going into the season.”
But that also presents challenges, as Vermes and Sporting KC figured out in 2014, when it advanced to the tournament’s quarterfinals before falling 5-2 on aggregate to Cruz Azul.
“It doesn’t make it easy. When you accelerate preseason, you have to speed your team up to get fitter faster,” Vermes said. “That’s not always easy, and you risk injury that way.”
Here are more notes from Thursday’s media event:
Process continues in Opara’s return
After losing Ike Opara to injury the last two seasons, Sporting KC’s coaching staff is prepared to take things much slower with the defender in 2016, including sprinkling in starts rather than letting fatigue set in as the result of a string of starts.
“The guy was out for basically two years,” Vermes said. “This is going to be a progression. I’ve told him this, there’s got to be patience with this. He’s got to progress into this again. Even just the rhythm of playing with the ball, because he hasn’t been able to play with the ball — he’s been just trying to get healthy.
“We’re trying to take that process with him. There’s no doubt that he’s going to get his chances to play, but right now it’s a process to build him up and not just stick him to the wolves, because that’s not fair to him in so many ways — physically, technically, tactically, all of it. He needs to build himself up into it.”
A big influence both on and off the field in that buildup has been Chance Myers. The 28-year-old right back went through a similar process last season after missing most of 2014 because of an Achilles’ injury. Myers made his first start on June 27 but started just nine more games.
“We talk all the time,” Myers said. “We were in the treatment room all the time last year. We bounce ideas off each other all the time. We know it’s a process, but we know what he can do.”
Opara admits the process “sucks” at times, but that each step brings him closer to a return.
“I’m still shaking off that rust, shaking off that general soreness. It can be frustrating if you let it be, but I know at the end of the day I’m getting better,” Opara said. “That’s what is important.”
Vermes, Heineman on Arnaud’s retirement
D.C. United midfielder Davy Arnaud announced his retirement on Thursday after 14 MLS seasons.
Arnaud, who will turn 36 this summer, spent most of his career in Kansas City as a member of the Wizards from 2002-10 and Sporting KC in 2011. He will join D.C. United’s coaching staff for the upcoming season.
“He had a great work ethic,” Vermes said. “I believe he was a team guy. It’s always tough when someone retires, but what all of us find out is that the game keeps going on even when we leave it as a player.”
Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman wrote Friday in a Twitter post that Arnaud will “no doubt” be inducted into the club’s Sporting Legends hall of fame “someday.”
Nagamura, future coach?
Paulo Nagamura’s attention is on the upcoming MLS season, but even he says his future could be in coaching.
Possibly here in Kansas City, too.
“You think about your future, and you always consider all the possibilities,” Nagamura said. “Right now I’m really focused on the season with Sporting KC, of course, but it’s always in the back of my mind, staying in soccer and staying in Kansas City to help the sport and club grow even more.”
Nagamura, 33, has been a member of Sporting KC since 2012. He re-signed with the club this offseason after starting 17 games and contributing four goals in 2015.
Major academy change?
Host families have been critical for the success of Sporting KC’s academy, but that could soon change with the building of the National Coaching Education Center, part of the longstanding U.S. Soccer facility project in Wyandotte County.
“We’re probably going to formalize that into more of a residential program sooner rather than later,” Heineman said. “I think as the National Coaching Education Center comes up in Wyandotte Country that we’re building, I think there’s very likely going to be a residential component to that.”
Tate Steinlage: @TheFull90