Juggling more than one competition at once is a time-honored dilemma for many teams, in MLS and around the world. In North America, teams involved in the Concacaf Champions League have had to decide whether to focus on that, or their league season.
For Sporting Kansas City, the choice has been to compete on both fronts, and so far it's paying off.
Sporting KC haven’t lost in MLS play since Week 1, a last-minute road defeat to Western Conference leaders LAFC. In the middle of managing a stretch of seven games inside 25 days, with trips to Toluca, Los Angeles, Panama City, back to Kansas City and then Colorado, they still have seven points from four MLS matches so far, and find themselves in the semifinal round of Champions League play.
So what’s the key to them competing effectively on both fronts?
“You have to have a balanced team,” said Sporting captain Matt Besler. “You have to have a deep team. It’s something we’ve talked about from day one. Peter [Vermes] and his staff made it very clear that every guy on the roster was going to be used at some point, and you just have to be ready for when that moment comes.”
Sporting have handed 18 different players a start so far this season, suggesting they’ve got the depth they sought to build in the offseason. So what all goes into that decision? When do they choose to rest players?
“Basically after each game we take inventory of our team, find out based on data that we captured from a physical perspective,” Vermes said.
“We take into consideration congestion of schedule, the amount of days training, and just the overall fatigue of the player, and travel,” he continued. “We put all that together and decided whether or not we think players are available to play, and if they’re not, then we have to get somebody else in the position ready to play.”
Keeping players fit and ready, though, is always the biggest part. With 18 players clearly in the picture, not all of them will start every game. But keeping the squad focused on the next game, Thursday's Champions League clash against Liga MX titans Monterrey (9 p.m. CT | YahooSports.com, UDN) is how Vermes and his staff compete on both fronts.
“Right now the only focus that we have is our game on Thursday night,” Vermes said. “So for us, it’s about the next game, and nothing else. That’s the only way we can look at it because that’s the only game that we have control over.”