Sporting KC

Who plays? Who sits? Sporting KC’s coaches have some tough decisions ahead

They’re written on paper or a whiteboard, or sometimes they’re just stationed in Peter Vermes’ head. Wherever the location, Sporting Kansas City’s coach plans out his starting lineups days in advance, with some last-minute tweaks if necessary.

His process in 2019 will carry a new theme, one that will first appear in Sporting KC’s MLS regular-season opener Sunday night at Los Angeles FC.

Variation.

“We’re going to have to move the team around a little bit,” Vermes said. “I think there’s an unselfishness within the group to understand that everybody is going to have their impact in the team if we’re going to continue to move forward.”

The publicly-stated objective this winter was the supplementation of depth. Vermes and Brian Bliss, the team’s technical director, sought a two-deep roster at every position.

The effects of accomplishment materialized in the team’s first two matches, a two-game aggregate series victory against Toluca FC in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Players who are accustomed to logging heavy minutes found themselves on the bench for both games. Heck, last year’s leading scorer, Daniel Salloi, has not yet started a match.

“It’s going to be difficult to be on the field — that’s why you have to perform every weekend,” said Salloi, who hit the goalpost on a shot as a second-half substitute this week. “It’s not just for me; every position, we have a great team (with) substitutes. I think I’ve always had to fight for my position. Last year was the first year when I could show it, with goals, that I deserve to be on the field. That’s what I’m trying to do this year, too.”

It’s not just the depth that will prompt the roster rotation. Equally significant? The schedule.

While Sunday’s league opener on the West Coast falls on the same weekend as years’ past, the finale will arrive nearly a month earlier. The 34-game MLS regular season schedule is condensed, with fewer off days over the course of the season.

It’s a particularly daunting task for Sporting KC from the jump. The club just finished off its series in Toluca, Mexico, on Thursday, a game that was played at an elevation of 8,750 feet. There was a four-hour flight Friday, followed by a light training session on the beach.

Simply put: While the lineup was unchanged in the two-game Toluca series, there are sure to be new names in the starting group Sunday. Vermes all but tipped his hand on that stance this week.

And expect more of it throughout the season, too, he insists. Players accustomed to seeing 30-plus starts have braced for a lighter workload.

“It’s always a coaching decision, but I’m good with whatever they decide,” midfielder Roger Espinoza said. “It’s going to happen. We’re going to be on the bench. All I want to do is win. It doesn’t matter how we win.”

In short time, Sporting KC will be asked to prioritize its competitions. After the short turnaround this weekend in Los Angeles, the club will travel to Panama for a mid-week match with CA Independiente in the Champions League quarterfinals. Then it’s back home for an MLS match on March 10. A few days later, the second leg against Independiente.

Which returns to the original theme:

Lineup rotation awaits.

“That’s going to be a constant thing of us taking inventory after each game,” Vermes said. “I don’t wanna look too far down the road, but you always have to keep an eye on that next game and how you’re going to approach it, as well.”

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