Going into their MLS season opener against LAFC on Sunday night, many figured Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes would rotate his lineup.
Instead, he fielded his best XI.
But the visitors — who accumulated seven yellow cards during the match as they fought for a result — still left with a 2-1 defeat thanks to Adama Diomande’s emphatic late winner.
“We could have played better. In the end, it was a close match. Los Angeles is a good team,” said Sporting midfielder Ilie Sanchez. “We knew what we were coming into and how difficult it was going to be.”
Sporting Kansas City had arrived in Los Angeles directly following their 2-0 Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 victory over Toluca at Estadio Nemesio Díez in Mexico on Thursday, to win the series by a commanding 5-0 scoreline on aggregate.
“Where we’re going to have to start monitoring [the lineup] really closely and probably rotating it around is Wednesday and Sunday,” Vermes said after the loss, claiming the 72 hours rest before the LAFC match didn’t factor into his coaching plans. “It’s cumulative at that moment.”
For their MLS opener, Sanchez was one of an unchanged starting XI over both legs in the Toluca tie — Vermes even made the exact same substitutions in both fixtures — leaving Hungarian defender Botond Barath’s 69th-minute introduction against LAFC the only personnel adjustment across Sporting KC’s first three competitive fixtures of 2019 (forward Erik Hurtado had come on in both Toluca ties).
“For me, when I’m making a lineup, I look at three things — climate, travel, congestion of schedule,” Vermes said. “The first two games against Toluca were a week apart. That’s a normal work week for any team. You prepare, you play the game, you recover. You build up, and you play the next one a week later. That’s normal, but there’s no cumulative effect there.”
With a CCL quarterfinal fixture set for Wednesday evening at Estadio Agustín Sánchez (7 p.m. CT | YahooSports.com, UDN) — about 30 miles outside Panama City in La Chorrera — against Independiente, the side who demolished 2018 CCL finalists Toronto FC 4-0 at the same ground last month, Vermes' choice to field a full-strength squad in league play bucked the trend of lineup rotation most MLS clubs have opted for in both this year’s and last year’s edition of the continental competition.
While supporters and pundits will discuss the gamble, for his players, the jam-packed schedule doesn’t leave much time to ponder the possibilities.
“We’re now going to go back to the hotel to rest and have dinner,” said Sanchez. “We will travel tomorrow. There’s no time to dwell on this. We’ll land in Panama on Monday. We’ll prepare for the next game as we did for this one. For us all competitions are important and I feel we work to focus equally for each one.”