The majority of Sporting Kansas City’s starters spent their winter breaks running stairs instead of relaxing at home with friends and family. Saturday night’s 3-0 rout of the New England Revolution provided a perfect showcase of how handsomely that work had paid off.
“It was tough not going home to that Florida weather, 80 degrees on Christmas day,” said midfielder Graham Zusi, who opened the scoring in the 28th minute. “But it was well worth it. We’re going to see some dividends this year.”
They already are. On Saturday, Sporting’s players showed off their match fitness time and again, beating their opponents to one 50-50 ball after another, closing off passing lanes and picking apart the Revs’ defense to compile a 27-11 mismatch in shots on the night.
“When you’re winning and you’re keeping the ball, you have a lot more energy than when you’re defending all the time,” said right back Chance Myers, who pressed forward into the attack throughout the night. “I think everybody was having fun out there tonight, but our mentality was right too. We were ready to come out here and perform tonight.”
In fairness, SKC played with the benefit of a man advantage for the last 75 minutes of the match. But according to striker C.J. Sapong, who drew the foul that got defender Stephen McCarthy sent off and scored Sporting’s third goal of the evening, said fitness played a part in that as well.
“It was big,” Sapong said. “They looked like they were dragging a little bit, and we just ran them.”
The man advantage created its own fitness tests, head coach Peter Vermes said.
“Even though we were up a man, that doesn’t make the game easy,” he said. “The other team wants to settle back and in. You have to – when they extend themselves a little bit – you have to go fast because you don’t want them to recover and bunker everybody in. Or, you have to move the ball a lot, which constitutes a lot of movement off the ball for us.
“In both of those situations, I think tonight was a great opportunity for us to increase our game fitness here at home,” Vermes continued. “The tempo is much different here than we play on the road.”
Sporting’s conditioning showed at the defensive end as well. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen had to make six saves for his second shutout of the year, but nearly all of those were on balls that, while on frame, were anything but threatening.
“It was phenomenal,” Nielsen said. “I’m very impressed. … When I’m standing and watching my guys in front of me, it just makes me proud. All the hard work in the offseason, it’s getting paid off now.”