With roughly 10 training sessions plus a 90-minute scrimmage in the books, Sporting Kansas City Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes has had ample time to assess his team as it prepares for the 2020 MLS regular season. Midway through the first leg of Sporting’s 2020 preseason, presented by Children’s Mercy, SportingKC.com caught up with Vermes to provide an update from camp in Scottsdale, Arizona.
This offseason was a few weeks longer than usual. As the preseason campaign began, what were you most eager to see from the players?
What I was very curious about was the level of fitness the guys would come in with. I also wanted to see what their commitment and attitude was going to be like here in Arizona. Both situations have been top-notch and first-class. We need that to continue as we get closer to the end of February and the start of the regular season.
Our first scrimmage resulted in a win over a team of Phoenix Rising FC trialists on Saturday. The final score isn't always the most important barometer of preseason success, so what were you pleased to see on the field?
Without getting too specific, I would say that the things we worked on during the first five days of training showed themselves well in our first scrimmage. To see that they’re taking tactical ideas and concepts and already implementing them was a very important aspect in that game.
Two-a-day training sessions are back this year. What went into making that decision and how have the players responded?
We’ve done two-a-days during some preseasons in the past. Last year was different because we started a bit earlier, so we trained just once per day. Every year is different. Whether we’re doing two-a-days or a morning training session followed by weights, it doesn’t really matter as long as the group’s attitude is really good. That’s the most important aspect, and we’ve been pleased with that so far.
As the manager, what are you paying the closest attention to during the first two weeks of training?
We want to increase their base from a physical perspective, so we do a bit extra fitness at the end of trainings. We need to make sure they can employ our model of play fitness-wise, because it’s a demanding style of play. Being Sporting fit is always crucial at this stage. We also want guys to get sharp from a technical perspective, working on that first touch and getting cleaner on the ball every day.
Another factor is implementing a lot of the detailed tactics—both when we have the ball and don’t have the ball. And then from the psychological side, we look for them to get stronger and stronger mentally as a group. It’s going to be a tough season ahead of us.
As is usually the case in preseason, multiple newcomers have joined the squad and begun brightly. What have you seen from this group specifically?
I always think it’s easier to adapt and adjust to a team in the United States than it is pretty much everywhere else in the world. We’re a lot more inviting in that regard. All of the newcomers have arrived with a great attitude and a great effort in trying to adapt here. They aren’t just showing up and being themselves, they’re trying to understand our way of doing things as a club. They have worked very hard to acclimate to that environment very quickly, and we appreciate that.
You mention Sporting being more inviting as a club. Is that a product of our culture or is it something you more commonly see across Major League Soccer?
You definitely see it clearly at our club, but I think you tend to see that more everywhere in America. We have a lot of diversity in our country, which is something we don’t always get a lot of credit for. That’s something the country can always get better at—we aren’t perfect—but because we have so much diversity here, we are very inclusive in a lot of areas. You see that inclusivity at this club when players from around the world come here. It’s in our culture as a country and a club to be welcoming and help newcomers acclimate as well as possible.
Sporting KC Academy products accounted for all four goals in Saturday's scrimmage. Talk about the progress the club has made cultivating homegrown talent along that player pathway.
We like to see our young guys making impacts when given the opportunity. We have said for a long time now that developing talent within our Academy is crucial for the long-term success of the club. That will always be an important piece, and we look forward to seeing our Academy players take those positive steps forward every day.