Peter Vermes wasn’t entirely sure what the graph meant, but he knew the data in front of him was telling him something important.
The undulating line measuring Chance Myers’ heart rate during training was far too static. Vermes and his staff weren’t seeing the peaks and valleys indicating heavy exertion followed by a quick recovery and the ability to do it all again in rapid succession typical of Sporting Kansas City’s other players.
In short, Myers was having an unusual amount of difficulty getting enough oxygen.
“I actually went to the trainers and the doctors and said, ‘You guys need to check him with his breathing. You need to see if he has asthma,’” Vermes said. “It came out that Chance had asthma when he was younger, and he stopped taking his medicine himself because he was such a good doctor at that time. They helped him get back on track in a very short period of time.”
That was last year. This season the only people having trouble breathing are the players tasked with tracking Myers as he jets up and down Sporting Kansas City’s right flank as one of Major League Soccer’s most dynamic fullbacks.
When Sporting Kansas City take the field against D.C. United on Saturday (6:30 pm ET, KSMO-TV), Myers will be making his 24th start of 2011 at right back. He’s firmly entrenched in Vermes’ 11 and enjoying a breakout season after three years of uncertainty.
Myers, who is reticent about being in the spotlight as it is, didn’t want to discuss the laundry list of setbacks – mononucleosis, surgery to repair a deviated septum, a fractured fifth metatarsal and nearly a dozen other assorted ailments – that seemed to define his career until this season.
In fact, he barely even acknowledged the asthma that Vermes said limited his fitness, uttering a single sentence that helped explain his renaissance this season.
“I’m not one to make excuses,” Myers said.
He’ll have to excuse those then who assumed he was snakebit after three injury-ridden seasons in Kansas City. There really was no other logical conclusion to explain why such a physically gifted player and the first overall pick in the 2008 SuperDraft had failed to gain a foothold as a professional.
All told, Myers had played just 1,414 minutes and made 13 starts before this season, fueling doubt that his body was capable of handling the rigors of a full MLS campaign.
“Things change,” Myers said, now that his 2011 season has largely put that doubt in the rearview. “Being able to stay healthy physically and get my fitness up to where it needed to be [was huge]. Fitness at this level is way different than college.”
Myers has also matured physically and added a layer of muscle with the help of fitness coach Mateus Manoel. He is now one of the fittest players on the team, routinely finishing near the top in high-intensity sprints and ground covered each game.
That’s music to Vermes’ ears, especially since Sporting’s manager said there were certainly times he wondered if the 23-year-old would ever get the breaks needed to take advantage of his potential.
“In this game and especially in this country — because our game is so physical — if you are just surviving, you can’t do it,” Vermes said. “You can’t be treading water and just trying to keep your head above water. If you are going to play week in and week out, you’ve got to get up to where your fitness and gas tank has grown immensely.”
These days Myers’ gas tank seems to be perpetually full, allowing him to combine with Kei Kamara, regularly get to the endline and provide much-needed width to Kansas City’s attack. He’s been so good that Vermes didn’t hesitate when asked to compare his right back to the top tier of attacking fullbacks in MLS.
“Top three guys,” Vermes said. “For sure. Easy.”
The former national team stalwart even went so far as to add Myers to the list of young Americans that deserve at least a look from US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann – though he also pointed out that the laid-back Southern Californian still has plenty of room to grow as he continues to learn the position and league.
In typical fashion, Myers didn’t have much interest in discussing his place in the league, his coach’s plaudits or his future. He’s just happy to be in the lineup, absorbed in a battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and finally healthy after years fighting to stay on the field.
“If Peter has confidence in me, it’s going to boost my confidence as well,” Myers said. “There is always room for improvement. I want to be a good attacking fullback, but I think our defense comes first and that’s what is going to win us games.”