A day after enduring an impassioned, physically-draining 120 minutes of soccer for its first playoff series victory in two years, Sporting Kansas City kept its training session short and relatively light Thursday morning.
It was a necessary calm.
Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes called Wednesday’s 3-1 victory against New England — which resulted in a 4-3 aggregate series win — his team’s best effort of the season.
It didn’t come without a price.
“I woke up very, very sore this morning,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “My whole body hurt.”
The recovery time is lacking. Sporting KC will hop on a plane Friday morning and travel to Houston, where the Dynamo await a 1:30 p.m. match Saturday in the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals.
While Sporting KC has faced similarly quick turnarounds this season, this break offers a unique situation.
“We need more recovery than usual for sure,” Vermes said. “The guys put a lot of work into that game. Part of it is the extra time we played, but it’s the effort you put into that time as well. And the effort was major. That’s why we need the extra time.”
They’re not the only ones.
Houston will be on the field Saturday for its fourth game in 10 days. Like its counterparts in the Eastern Conference finals, Houston also needed 120 minutes to dispatch its semifinal opponent. The Dynamo defeated New York 2-1 in overtime Wednesday, winning the series 4-3 on aggregate.
“Both teams had a rough game for 120 minutes,” Sporting KC goalie Jimmy Nielsen said. “And this is a tough turnaround. We’re going to find out how we’re feeling pretty quickly.”
Sporting KC will be especially tested in its midfield, where the options remain slim.
Lawrence Olum is likely to miss the remainder of the postseason because of a fractured fibula, while Peterson Joseph doesn’t appear ready to return Saturday from an undisclosed health-related issue, Vermes said.
Their absences Wednesday left Sporting KC with Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber and Oriol Rosell in the midfield. Nagamura, who has fought an ankle injury for the past three months, made his first start since Sept. 7 and played 97 minutes.
It marked only the second time Rosell, Feilhaber and Zusi started in the same game, though the combination proved successful. Sporting KC controlled nearly 65 percent of the possession, including 72 percent before halftime.
The lineup could stick around Saturday.
“We’ll make an assessment (in the next) couple of days of where guys are physically and everything else,” Vermes said. “Hopefully there will be no surprises and we’ll get ready for our next (game) here.