Sporting Kansas City are back at work, looking to use the two-week international break to rest, heal up and to fine-tune the approach that has kept them atop the Eastern Conference for much of the season.
“We're viewing it as a great thing,” center back Matt Besler (above, right) told MLSsoccer.com after Thursday's training session. “We know that we're on a pretty good run right now, but we also have a lot of things that we need to work on still. We're looking at this as a time to shore up what we need to shore up and make improvements to make the final push.”
Manager Peter Vermes gave his players three days off to start the week, then brought them back on Thursday for a lengthy, rigorous practice.
“We've got a little chance to get away, get hungry and also work on some things that maybe we didn't have time to,” Vermes said. “We've had so many games, and we've been trying to give players some rest, so it's actually not a bad time of the year.”
Sporting are unbeaten in their last 10 league matches, 11 across all competitions, and are three points ahead of second-place Chicago with two matches left in the regular season. But the players aren't worried about the break costing them any momentum, center forward C.J. Sapong said.
“We can't let the outside factors have a say on what we're doing,” said Sapong, who has three goals in Sporting's last five matches. “We know what we need to do and we know how we play. We just need to stick to how we play.”
The opportunity to get injured players back into the mix doesn't hurt, either. The break gives Roger Espinoza an outside chance to return from a sprained right ankle before the end of the regular season and allows left winger Bobby Convey some extra time to work his way back from a hamstring strain that has kept him off the pitch since early August.
While Espinoza is out for Honduras' World Cup qualifiers on Friday and Tuesday, Sporting still have midfielder/winger Graham Zusi (US) and forward Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone) on international duty.
“Zusi obviously had a great game the last time he played, and hopefully he gets another run at it,” left back Seth Sinovic said. “Kei's got a lot of traveling to do. Hopefully, they both come back fresh.”