Manager Peter Vermes expects to learn a lot about his team on Saturday night when Sporting Kansas City visits the New York Red Bulls to open the 2021 MLS regular season.
After finishing atop the Western Conference last year, Sporting has returned a strong veteran core while also promoting a host of young Academy products and a few key acquisitions from abroad. With an MLS-leading 12 Homegrown Players on the roster and French Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Remi Walter in the mix, Sporting has a similar yet different look than it did in 2020.
The first test for the revamped group comes against a Red Bulls side known for its suffocating high press and up-tempo style of play. In a Thursday afternoon discussion with The Program host Soren Petro on Sports Radio 810 WHB, Vermes said the season-opener would provide an ideal litmus test for his team.
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“There’s a lot to be found out in these early games for individual players,” Vermes said. “We’re also going up against a team in New York where it probably couldn’t be a tougher opponent (in Week 1) because they’re going to come out flying. It’s not like we’re easing into a game where the other team is going to feel us out. No, they’re coming with the high press and running everywhere. From the opening whistle, we’re going to have to be on top of our game.”
Vermes also revealed that Sporting’s squad has been hampered by injuries of late. Tim Melia, Graham Zusi and Amadou Dia are ruled out for Saturday, while the likes of Walter, captain Johnny Russell and striker Alan Pulido are available for selection but not 90-minutes fit. This will open the door for the likes of 19-year-old goalkeeper John Pulskamp and a host of other rising talents to make an early impression in 2021.
Sporting’s pro player pathway has received plaudits in recent months, as over 40 percent of the club’s MLS roster has a Homegrown tag. Vermes points out, however, that it is ultimately up to each player to make the most of the chances they are given.
“Player development is driven by the player, not the coach or the parents,” he said. “As much as we’re creating an environment and giving them the ability to progress and develop a skill, at the end of the day they’re going to have to perform on the field. When they get those chances, how are they going to take advantage of the opportunity they get? Our job is that when they get there, they are ready to go and do it from a physical and tactical perspective. Then they have to go and perform.”
Saturday’s clash in Harrison, New Jersey, is slated for 7 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.