Fifty-one days ago, Sporting Kansas City lifted the MLS Cup at Sporting Park. Two days ago, Sporting KC took to the fields in Tucson, Ariz., to begin their title defense. And while most managers across Major League Soccer have time to bring their squads up to speed to prepare for First Kick, with a date against Mexican giant Cruz Azul looming in March, Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes does not have the same luxury.
“The first two days are normally a little rusty, but the guys are further ahead than normal,” Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said after Sunday morning’s training session. “Much of that has to do with us returning a consistent group of players from last year’s squad that understand the challenges and expectations ahead of them.”
Those challenges include a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series Cruz Azul only four days after the season opener against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field. La Maquina are currently 3-0-1 in LigaMX including a resounding 4-0 win over Veracruz on Saturday.
Sporting KC will host Cruz Azul on March 12 before traveling to Mexico City for the decisive leg on March 19. If Sporting KC want to remain in the Champions League tournament and continue their run toward the FIFA Club World Cup, they will have to overcome the disadvantage of playing a team with half a season of games under their belt.
“We have to get to the point where we are playing our style quicker than normal,” Vermes said. “We have to spend these next few weeks progressing toward our style of play and getting in mid-season form earlier than in past seasons.”
And while Vermes is not quick to overlook the season opener at Seattle, he knows a poor start against Cruz Azul at home could put a quick end to their run in CCL. Since the 2008-09 edition, only one MLS team that lost the first game of the knockout stage, advanced through the tournament (Seattle in 2012-13).
“We have to accelerate our training regiment,” he said. “And I’m not talking about small-sided games, I’m talking about 11v11 to get us playing to the point where we want to play."