Peter Vermes and Johnny Russell handshake - Sporting KC postgame
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Manager Peter Vermes talks MLS suspension and player fitness on 610 Sports Radio

Less than 24 hours after Major League Soccer announced the suspension of its 2020 season until May 10 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes joined 610 Sports Radio to discuss the unprecedented situation with hosts Josh Klingler and Bob Fescoe.

With Sporting players being instructed to stay active from home, one of Vermes' biggest priorities on the managerial side is making sure his team is doing everything possible to stay safe, healthy and relatively fit. For the last week, Sporting has observed Major League Soccer's training moratorium that prohibits squads from practicing together. As a result, players have embarked on their own individual training programs from home.

Listen to the full podcast above and see Vermes' remarks below.

On Major League Soccer’s targeted return date of May 10…

“I try to be a positive guy, so I’m hopeful like most others that things will get back to normalcy as soon as possible. At least it’s some positive news in the short term. Staff and players are just waiting for the opportunity. It’s difficult for the staff as well, not just the players, because we’re together so much when the season is up and running. For everyone to all of the sudden be cut off from everybody else—they can get on phone calls and Skype each other—but outside of that, the everyday routine is gone. Everyone is looking to get back to that routine as soon as possible, and (hopefully) it happens sooner rather than later.”

On how he has spent most of his time during the suspension…

“It’s hard because we’ve only played two games of the season. I watch a ton of games during the week leading up to each weekend. So watching all of the games during the first two weeks of the season is over with. When teams come back, it’s going to be very difficult for teams to get back to the same level they were playing at in those first two games. What I’ve done is watched our first two games, learned a few things about us for when we do come back, and with a couple of our staff members I’m making contingency plans on different start dates in terms of when our first game back would be. We’re trying to look at a one-week lead-up, a two-week lead-up, three weeks or whatever. I’m trying to put together a plan for all of those things.

“The other thing you can do is look at players for the future to (bring into) the club. That’s one thing that can be difficult during the season, and obviously our player personnel department spends a lot of time on that. Me and the rest of the coaching staff likes to look at prospective players as well, so it’s something that we’ve been able to do a little bit more now since we have this time.”

On the challenge of keeping players fit as they train individually from home…

“A lot of guys have been doing stuff on their own in a safe environment. Maybe they go for a run (by themselves) or go to a field where no one else is at and work on some of their fitness. If they can maintain some of that base that they created, I would say (they can stay fit). To me, the fitness is the most important aspect. I feel confident in getting the team back from the soccer side, but with the fitness you have to put the time in. That’s the piece to me that is always the most concerning. It’s the same when guys are coming back from long-term injuries—not rushing them back and trying to get them a good base. That to me is the foundation of a successful season for a player and a team.”

On how long the team will need to be fully prepared for a match once full training resumes…

“I personally think you’d need somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four weeks. And again, that’s with the guys having done stuff up until that point, which I think most of our players are trying to do. I think they’re going stir-crazy to be honest with you, so they’re trying to do some stuff—whether they have a peloton in their house and they’re riding that to keep their fitness up. The tough thing about soccer is, if you’re not able to do it every day like you are during the season, when you first come back, the first week is always tough. In soccer, you’re cutting and changing direction and contracting your muscles. When you first come back, you get general soccer soreness. When the players come back, they usually need about a week to get over that piece. From a fitness perspective and overall soccer point of view, I think you need three to four weeks in minimum terms.”

On the process of gathering information from MLS and the CDC…

“Part of my day is conference calls and staying up to date with the league. MLS has been incredibly informative, and we have our own internal task force with Sporting. The communication has been tremendous, and staying up to date with all of this (information) changes really quickly. You have to be really nimble and flexible to roll with it. Organizationally, I think we’ve done that pretty well. Our fans have been great from that point of view, too. Our players are hanging on the edge of their seats because (soccer) is what they do, and they want to do it. But they also understand the community responsibility they have. Right now we’re just all trying to follow the rules of the CDC and all of the other people we’re speaking with at the moment.”

On Sporting’s strong start to the season with consecutive wins…

“I was very happy with the team, and it goes back to the commitment of the players who returned to the team and the new guys that came in. Their commitment to the physical aspects of what we focused on in preseason—and the preparation that everyone put in during the offseason—was tremendous. It really helped is get into our model of play very quickly. I also can’t commend our new players enough on how fast they have been able to adapt, adjust and fit into the way that we play. We’ve used the qualities and assets that they have to not only fit in but enhance the team from a performance and results point of view.”