The plans are formed long in advance, usually inside coach Peter Vermes’ office at the Sporting Kansas City training facility. He removes the top sheet from a stack of papers on his desk and writes 11 names on it with an ink pen, representing a potential starting lineup. The process is completed with foresight and after careful deliberation with members of his staff.
A handful of uncertainties robbed him of the advanced process this week. As Sporting Kansas City prepares to enter the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, when it plays host to Minnesota United FC at 7:30 p.m., Vermes shrugged when asked about his lineup. In fact, as of 48 hours before the scheduled kickoff, he insisted he was unsure exactly who might be in it.
“It becomes a chess match in who you’re (saving), who you’re playing and all those types of things,” Vermes said. “A lot of different ways of trying to manage those decisions.”
The dilemma revolves around the nature of the Open Cup competition, which Sporting KC has won three times, most recently in 2015. The club, and Vermes in particular, has always been adamant about trying to win the tournament placed in the middle of the MLS season. It’s a championship that includes a trophy, prize money and a berth into the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.
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But let’s not kid ourselves — as valuable as that championship may be, nobody thinks it’s as critical as the MLS season. Sporting KC returns to MLS action on Saturday in San Jose. That’s the priority.
Asked about the option of giving his regulars a rest to better prepare for the weekend, Vermes replied, “Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of that. Other times you do. It’s about assessing the guys and where they are and make a decision from there.
“You’d love to be able to rest players left and right. Unfortunately ....”
Interrupting his own thought, Vermes reverted back to some of those uncertainties. Captain Matt Besler and Graham Zusi didn’t return from United States national-team duty until Tuesday. He is unsure of their availability Wednesday.
Another wrinkle: Aside from trying to rest some of his regulars, there’s a desire to get some of the reserves some playing time. Take forward Diego Rubio, for example. He has not played since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) last October, but he has been cleared to play and insists he’s ready.
“I would like to give the opportunity to (other) players on our team to get some games,” Vermes said. “But again, I have to weigh all the options that are available.
“We always want to do the best in everything we play in, and the U.S. Open Cup is no different. We have to make sure that we put out the best team we can to get the result come Wednesday.”