With the announcement on Thursday that Sporting Park would host two matches of the CONCACAF 2016 Olympic qualifying tournament in October, it’s a solid reminder: Soccer is a busy, busy sport that runs year round. And your calendar is about to get a bit hectic.
Late spring and early summer is when Major League Soccer’s regular season starts to pick up the pace — with regularly scheduled mid-week games running until the middle of the June.
For Sporting Kansas City, the schedule also gets a lot tougher with difficult matches against the New England Revolution, Seattle Sounders (twice) and FC Dallas looming. And, with the U.S. Open Cup, the Under-20 Men’s World Cup and the CONCACAF Gold Cup all coming up, the calendar starts to get even more crowded.
While potentially a boon for those who enjoy watching soccer, this schedule crunch can be a particular headache for MLS coaches and general managers. Given the league’s roster rules (allowing only 28 players per team), it’s not easy to build in depth to cope with multiple tournaments/call-ups.
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Sporting Kansas City and Peter Vermes in particular could be hit pretty hard by the upcoming call-ups.* Kansas City has 27 players on its roster, with three out on loan — Saad Abdul-Salaam and Jon Kempin with the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions and Mikey Lopez with USL affiliate Oklahoma City Energy FC.
*The NWSL and FC Kansas City are already very familiar with this problem. The Women’s World Cup starts on June 6 (and runs to July 5) and most internationals have withdrawn from their teams to focus on preparations. This has left many NWSL teams to turn to amateur players to fill out their ranks.
The first challenge will be the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which is in full swing right now and the U.S.-based MLS squads join the fray June 16-17. Based on geography, I fully expect KC to draw the winner of the third round matchup of Des Moines Menace-Saint Louis FC winner vs. Minnesota United FC. (After a bye week for KC, but ahead of a Sunday evening match with Real Salt Lake on the 21st.)
But that’s really only the beginning. International tournaments will start pulling away talent — some have already started to.
The FIFA men’s Under 20 World Cup runs from May 30-June 20 and many MLS teams will be without some prized youngsters for more than a month. For KC, it means they’ll be without the services of teenage defender Erik Palmer-Brown — who just earned his first start of the season last week in D.C. — after this weekend.
With Ike Opara out for the season, KC will carry just three central defenders (Matt Besler, Jalil Anibaba and Kevin Ellis) for the foreseeable future.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup (July 7-26, featuring two matches at Sporting Park on July 13) should hit the squad a bit harder, as the league will not be taking a break during the tournament this season. With so many U.S. national (and Honduran and Canadian and Costa Rican) members playing in MLS, it means many teams will be without key players during the month of July.
For Sporting Kansas City that likely means losing national team regulars like Besler (U.S.), Roger Espinoza (Honduras) and Marcel De Jong (Canada). While he’s not necessarily a regular, Soni Mustivar (Haiti) has national team experience and if he continues to play well in KC, he might draw more chances.
There really could be more, though. Even though he’s been fighting fitness (and now a concussion), Graham Zusi has typically been a part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans in the past. And if he continues to have a monster year, it might be hard for Klinsmann to ignore Benny Feilhaber in that team as well. (The U.S. has a decent corps of attacking and defensive midfielders, but not a lot who can do both jobs like Benny has shown.)
If things all break a certain direction, Kansas City could potentially be without its captain, left back, three midfielders and right wing for matches against Vancouver (who, it’s worth noting, will be without lots of key players as well), Montreal and Real Salt Lake (same issues). Oh, and the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals are July 21-22.
That’s a lot of potential upheaval for a team that’s already dealt with a fair amount. This Saturday, with Zusi doubtful, could see Vermes turn to his ninth different starting lineup in 10 games. (Also, de Jong remains out.)
The good news? The next two months don’t feature a lot of travel for KC, as it will play five of its next seven matches at Sporting Park — Colorado this weekend, New England (Wed., May 20), FC Dallas (Fri., May 29), Seattle (Sat., June 6), Colorado (Sat., June 27). The lone road trips: @Seattle (Sat., May 23) and @Salt Lake (Sun., June 21).
Listen to this week’s Sporting KC-specific episode of Talkin’ Touches, where Andy Edwards and I discuss the 1-1 draw with D.C. United, improved form, Erik Palmer-Brown’s future and more.