On Sunday morning after Sporting Kansas City returned home from a road match, coach Peter Vermes gave his players the day off.
Well, most of them. On the back field at Pinnacle, Vermes greeted defender Jimmy Medranda. The instructions were pretty simple.
Medranda had cycled through a similar test of endurance two weeks earlier, and it didn’t go particularly well. But on Sunday, a day after Sporting’s draw in Houston, things had already changed.
“It was a big, big jump from two weeks ago,” Vermes said. “We did a bunch of extra cardio throughout that week, and he’s increased (his fitness) immensely. I’m starting to see a big improvement in him.”
Medranda missed more than a year of game action, knee surgery cutting short his 2018 season and delaying his 2019 campaign. After a long rehab, the final piece of his full return is endurance. Fitness. The ability to maintain high energy for more than short spurts.
On Wednesday morning, three days after the latest endurance test, Medranda approached Vermes with good news.
“I feel great,” Medranda said. “This is the best I’ve felt since I came back with the team. It’s been my best week. The body is still getting accustomed to what I used to be, so it’s like everything is new. The first week was tough, but I feel good now.”
Medranda made his official return on May 26, playing one minute plus extra time in a 3-2 win against Seattle. He nearly scored. As he subbed into the match, he was offered a lengthy standing ovation at Children’s Mercy Park, a response that surprised him. “It was really emotional. Incredible,” he said.
Three days later, he played 13 minutes. On Saturday in Houston, Vermes planned to insert Medranda into the game but instead had to use an unexpected substitute at center back.
The plan remains to build his minutes, with some flexibility. They’ve tried to simulate lengthy stints in practice, but a game offers a unique intensity that can be hard to precisely replicate.
Medranda will be an available substitute Friday, when Sporting KC travels to play Toronto at 6 p.m. That’s likely his role next week too, when the club plays Minnesota in the U.S. Open Cup.
But the long-term plan is to supply Medranda a more advanced part.
“Over the next month, somewhere along the line, he’s going to get some really, really significant minutes,” Vermes said. “Hopefully by the start of July, he’s right there.”
Medranda, 25, has played all three lines in his career with Sporting, but when he talked about his position, he referred to left outside back. As he watched games from the stands, he said he studied Seth Sinovic’s movements on and off the ball to better prepare himself for a return. He further credited Sinovic with teaching him the intricacies of the position as he’s worked his way back from the injury.
Truth be told, he doesn’t care where he plays — just as long as he’s out there.
“The hardest part of being injured was just watching,” Medranda said. “You can’t do anything to help your team. You just want to play in a real game. I’m excited to be playing again.”