After two months of individual workouts, small group trainings and full-team practices at Compass Minerals National Performance Center, Sporting Kansas City will finally depart this Sunday for the MLS is Back Tournament at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
As Major League Soccer’s return to play beckons after a four-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all clubs are placing utmost importance not only on safety—players and coaches are routinely tested for the coronavirus—but getting back to match fitness.
After all, teams haven’t played competitive matches since the first full weekend of March. Sporting last took the field on March 7, dismantling the Houston Dynamo by a 4-0 scoreline to improve to 2-0-0 and take an early lead atop the Supporters’ Shield table with a plus-six goal differential. Roughly 12 weeks have passed since then, during which time players and fans alike have waited patiently for the 2020 campaign to continue.
“Every week it’s better, especially from a physical perspective,” Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes said today. “Guys have been working hard and I think they’re getting back in the swing of things. At the same time, they want to get back to playing games because they’ve been working for quite some time now.”
By the time Sporting leaves for Orlando on Sunday, the team will have four weeks of full-team training under its belt. That equates to a short preseason, but defender Jaylin Lindsey believes it’s enough time to be prepared for the heat and humidity of Central Florida.
“Everyone’s getting to that level of fitness where we need to be for (playing) 90 minutes in Orlando,” Lindsey said. “From individual workouts until now, the group has progressed massively.
“It’s been three and a half months without playing games, and just to go down there and play some games—be competitive in a World Cup-style tournament—it’s going to be massive for the group and everybody else.”
Forward Gerso Fernandes echoed those sentiments, noting that Sporting will approach the MLS is Back Tournament with extreme appreciation following weeks of uncertainty about whether the 2020 campaign would ever resume.
“This is what we do and this is what we want to do,” Gerso said. “We want to somehow be able to play some games, and I think we’ll be in a safe environment. It’s too bad we’ll be away from our families, but it’s our job, you know? It’s what we’ve got to do… We’ve been practicing really hard to play this tournament like it could be our (last).”
With MLS planning to stage the rest of the regular season following the conclusion of the MLS is Back Tournament, Vermes knows that a sizable challenge awaits. The progress he has seen recently has him feeling encouraged.
“Day to day, their recovery is getting better. They’re not as sore and you can tell they’re not just surviving,” Vermes said. “They’re starting to really feel like they can dominate the game physically a little bit. And the other side of it is the rhythm of the team is getting better. They’re getting back into sync a little bit, but it’s a big difference playing amongst each other in practice and playing in an MLS game. I’m sure all of it is going to ramp when we get down there, including the heat.”