QUOTES: Manager Peter Vermes discusses MLS training moratorium

Sporting Kansas City Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes spoke with media on Thursday via a teleconference to discuss the training moratorium in place for all Major League Soccer clubs since the 2020 MLS regular season was suspended on March 12. Below is a transcript.


On the biggest challenge during this time…

Personally, I’m a people person. I’m a face-to-face person. So the fact that you have to do everything by phone or conference calls, that part is a little difficult. Not because of the technology, but because I like to meet face-to-face with people most of the time and obviously I’m around the players on a regular basis. Not being able to do that every day is tough.

It’s part of our job as a staff to continue to give them opportunities and ideas to continue to stay fit as they would like to because they did so much work in the offseason and in preseason to get ready for the season. To keep that foundation of fitness up, it’s limiting at times. First off, you have to do individual workouts because you can’t be around people. Second is, where do they do that at? Those are the more difficult things from an everyday management point of view.

On staying fit and preparing for restart of play…

Right now, the priority for the players is to try to just keep their foundation of the fitness that they do have. They’re not going to stay game fit. There’s just no way. They have to play games. That’s not going to happen. But it’s really not losing the foundation of fitness that they built up in the offseason and the preseason.

In regards to return, obviously a lot is going to depend on when we do return. I believe that there is probably going to be a mini preseason; maybe three or four weeks of training prior to the opening game that we play. Do I think that’s enough time? I think a lot of it is going to have to do with the level of general fitness the guys can keep in their tank. It’s going to come down to that. I think that all of us – I say all of us, it’s not just at Sporting – I think we’ll come to a pretty good informed decision based on when our return to season will be.

On the team’s ability to monitor player workouts…

I am in constant contact with our sports science department. They’re in constant contact every day with the players. They’re doing all kinds of stuff. They’re doing Zoom workouts. They’re using Zoom and doing workouts with small groups of guys so that they still have interaction with each other, because obviously they play a team sport. They don’t play an individual sport. That camaraderie is still something that we’re trying to keep with the players. And then also for the foreign players, they’re here and they’re at times having a little bit more difficulty with it so keeping that connection with some of the other players is a good thing. So we’re doing that. I would say it’s very closely monitored by us. Obviously, we’re providing programming for them on a daily basis. If they choose to do some things in addition to what we ask, that’s okay as well. That’s totally up to them and what they actually can do and also what kind of equipment they have available to them also to be able to do certain types of workouts.

On building the group back up for the restart of the season…

I think, for sure, it’s going to be a mini preseason however you look at it. We’re going to have to play some intrasquad scrimmages to start getting ready for 90 minutes fit on the field. What we’re doing is we’re just working on some different models depending on how many weeks we have prior to that first game we’re going to play. We’ll build our mini preseason accordingly based on when that game is going to be.

If the league says that we have four weeks prior to our first game, or if they say three weeks or five weeks, then we’re going to build our model of that mini preseason based on when that return match is because we’ll have to build our guys up from the physical perspective. That’s going to be the main priority is the physical. I think everybody is going to try to work towards being sharp and all those other things from a soccer perspective, but I think the first priority is fitness because you want to make sure the guys, when they return, are not in a position to get injured. That’s going to be the main priority starting out.

On how Academy players are staying in shape and ready to play…

Our 19’s, 17’s and 15’s, we are doing something similar by providing them with some individual stuff that they can do on their own at their homes. The 14’s, 13’s and 12’s were a little less formalized because at those age groups, conditioning and those types of things are not the priority. It’s more of the individual technical and tactical aspects of those players. For those kids, it’s more ballwork and things like that. To be honest with you, I think it’s probably going to be a lot more difficult to get their season in just because they’re ending here in the early part of the summer. Possibly, there might be playoffs. I don’t know. But that’s still something that is governed and a lot of those decisions are made by U.S. Soccer because they run the Development Academy league for our Academy kids. Those are the things we’re doing internally with those two separate groups. We separate the 19’s, 17’s and 15’s in one group and the 14’s, 13’s and 12’s in another.

On how the players are adjusting…

I think for all of the players, it’s pretty much the same. They all want to play. I don’t think one player is different than another in that they all want to be doing what their passion is. They love the game. They want to play. I just think that the individual hurdles for each player are more based on: Do they live in an apartment? Do they live in a house? Do they have access to a field or somewhere to go and do some of their workouts in? Obviously, the other difficulty is that the weather is getting very nice now. I think that a lot of players want to be doing some things outside and they still have to be able to do it in a very responsible manner with social distancing…Those are all things that have to be considered when they’re doing this. So I think for all of this, it’s not just what they want to do. It’s how can they do it in a safe, responsible environment.

On utilizing the time to implement new tactics…

This time has given me the opportunity and the rest of the staff to think about probably having to be a little bit more creative back on the return to play. I envision that when we return, I don’t think we’re going to be allowed to just go back to the field and start going 11v11. I think there’s probably going to be a staggered way in which we probably do this. It will probably be where we do individual workouts and then it might work to small groups and then it will eventually grow into where we’re just back to normal 11v11. I think we’re having to be a little creative around that. That was part of that modeling I was talking about. Right now, we’re looking at every way in which we would kind of progress to eventually getting back to our normal environment. We’ve got to start with just individual workouts and those areas are where we’re going to have to be really creative. We’re using this time to do that now.

Thoughts on winning the club’s first two matches…

The number one thing for me was that physically we were at a really good place. I thought that in both games we physically dominated both games. That was good. The fact that Alan (Pulido) and Gadi Kinda both scored in the first two games is obviously excellent. I think that interpretation there for us was more that credit goes to the team and the staff for helping those guys indoctrinate into the team quickly. The players from a social perspective and the staff helping those guys get indoctrinated from a model of play. I would say for those guys, and also (Roberto) Puncec and when you look at Khiry Shelton, the work ethic that those guys are putting into the team, off the ball as well, is a big positive. I think that’s going to be the challenge for us in the return is making sure that we can get back to a high level of physical fitness because it’s hard to play this game without it. With this time off and the individual training, that’s probably going to be the biggest challenge returning.

On having to regain the team’s momentum…

Again, hopefully the guys are able to stay with some type of high level of at least a foundation of the current fitness that they have and then that we’re able to use the time that we have prior to that return match in a really efficient manner that we’re able to get the guys into a dominating physical ability.

On if MLS will lift the training moratorium league-wide or club by club…

That’s a great question. It’s something that we have been talking about. I actually provided the league – as a staff, we all put together – sort of a protocol of just what individual workouts would look like. Basically, providing field access and things like that in areas that aren’t as restricted as others. We even provided a video with an electronic diagram, as well. It’s something that they’re reviewing. We don’t have any determination yet from them as to what that looks like and to your point, whether or not every team is going to have to participate and be in that space in the country where everybody gets the okay to go ahead and do it. We haven’t gotten that feeling yet. It is something that we’ve asked and we’re just waiting for a response.

On discussion of how other leagues are handling this…

Our league is obviously staying in communication with the rest of the leagues in our country. At the same time, I think they’re also following what some of the leagues are doing around the world. I think most of the time it has a lot to do with where they are in this pandemic and what their area looks like. I think what’s difficult is, and I’ve given my opinion on this…a soccer field is 75 yards wide and 120 yards long. Most guys don’t have that in their back yard and most guys don’t have a weight room. A lot of things we’ve had to do just here in Kansas City, we’ve had to deliver equipment to players to their houses so they have the ability to do a lot of these things on their own or in their houses because they don’t have it. You’ve got to remember also that we have a lot of foreign players that are in our league, as well. A lot of them are in apartments. There’s a lot of transient type environments for the player. It’s much more difficult in how they get prepared and what they do. So it’s hard to look at the other sports just because I think that we’re kind of in a place of our own. Although I do think that teams have been very creative in trying to figure out how to manage that.

On preferences for how the season is structured once it resumes…

So much of it depends on when we return. I think everybody would say that they would love to see us play all of the games. If that means we have to play Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday or something like that, I think for most of us we would say we would do it. We want to try to uphold the integrity of the competition as best as we can but I think it’s all going to depend on when we return. I think you also have to take into consideration that a year ago, when we went into the new format of our league and our playoffs, there was a whole month saved on the backend. The league right now has that available to them. You could see us playing the MLS Cup again in December in this situation. I would think that the sanctity of the format for playoffs from last year would be kept in place, but there still is a lot of time to work with. I don’t think anything is off the table at the moment.

On how much of a competitive advantage SKC has right now…

Zero. I think we’re all in the same boat. We’re all staying at home. I think it’s going to come down to a couple things. One is what individual players have access to and how close they can stay to a good level of general fitness over the time that we are at this moratorium from training. The next step is going to be for the staff to come up with that plan for when we do return to play. How much time (will) we have prior to that game? And then testing and figuring out where our players are at that moment when they first come back to us. Then what kind of plan we put together to get them back to a level of fitness that first and foremost ensures that we’re not going to put them in danger of injury. Then hopefully that level of fitness they get is able to sustain the kind of play and intensity of how we want to play on the field.

Topics: