Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes: "We're trying to find solutions" in return to play

Sporting Kansas City Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes spoke to local and national media on Wednesday, addressing the club’s return to Compass Minerals National Performance Center for voluntary individual workouts and Major League Soccer’s return-to-play plans. His remarks are below.


On the start of voluntary individual workouts…

It’s been great; it’s great to get on the field and the players have been very motivated and excited to be back out there. As much as you can in individual workouts, you can see the camaraderie. We bring in eight to 12 players (at a time) when we’re using all of our fields, so it’s been good. The guys have worked very hard and our fitness staff did a really good job while the guys were in quarantine and not allowed to do individual workouts with us. The individual protocol has worked very well, and the club that put it together did a pretty good job.

On players’ fitness levels…

The guys have at least maintained some foundation of fitness. What’s hard is when you can’t play against each other 4-v-4 or 5v-5 and all the way up to 11-v-11. It’s very hard to look at game fitness, but the guys did a good job of keeping a solid foundation of fitness. That piece has happened pretty darn well, and again I commend our fitness staff for what they were doing on a regular basis with the guys.

On the prospect of all 26 MLS clubs traveling to Orlando for a closed-door competition…

We’re not really brought up to speed too much on the idea of that plan. I’ve heard about it as well, but I don’t know a ton. I know that there has been discussion with the players. From my point of view, all I’m interested in is a game date. Then it’s easy for me to work backwards from there. It’s really hard as we’re going forward at individual training to be preparing for something where we don’t know yet what the date of our first game would be. It’s really reverse engineering. Give me a date and I can work backwards from there. Regarding the players, they’re working with the players union and the CBA and the league. That has nothing to do with me. I have stayed completely away from that piece if it. I will say, the tournament aspect—whether it’s four cities or one city—at the end of the day, I think all the teams want to get back to playing games as soon as possible for so many different reasons. I would say the players want to do that as well. We all want to make sure we’re doing it in a safe environment and in a meaningful way.

On the genesis of individual workouts…

The genesis of the individual workouts started with us because I called all of our players one day and asked them a question at the end of our conversation. I said, “Is there anything that we can do for you?” All of them said, “It would just be great if we could get access to our training facility.” So I called the league and said, “Hey, do you have a problem with us opening our doors for the players to practice on our fields?” They were like, “No chance, no way.” So we went back and said there was no doubt we could do this in a very safe environment… So we put a video together that showed we could do it. That’s where this all started. A lot of coaches found out about the video and wanted to see it, and that’s what really pushed the league along to start looking at a return-to-training protocol.

On what must happen in order for small group training to begin…

First of all, our individual workouts are voluntary. It’s not mandatory for our guys to come, and if they choose not to, we just provide workouts for them where they’re at with what they have available to them and whatever they feel comfortable doing. And there’s a lot of teams like that around the league. We’re not getting to the next phases of this without testing. When we start training and we’re 7-v-7, we’ll need to have testing incorporated into that phase. When we start playing games, it’s going to be the same thing. Everybody is very mindful of the safety aspect. I’m also very respectful of people’s individual decisions. Some guys are maybe a little bit more concerned if their wives are pregnant and different things like that. We’re very cognizant of it and open to that. There’s no pressure on the guys to do anything one way or the other.

On whether MLS and Sporting have begun individual workouts too soon…

I don’t think so because the alternatives weren’t as safe. For us, it was trying to give our players a place to work out in the safest way possible. When they go around town, they’re famous guys. If you’ve got Alan Pulido going out to a soccer field, all of a sudden somebody sees him, and with social media suddenly 30 people want to take a picture with him. We can’t put him in that position. The fact that we’re able to now provide a private environment is great. I can tell you that we’re taking all the steps and all the precautions to make sure that as we move through these next phases, that testing is going to be a part of that protocol.

On how Sporting plans to implement virus testing…

We are working on two different tracks right now. All of our players and staff will be taking tests to see if they actually have the virus. We will also be taking the antibody test to see if we had it at some point and built up antibodies towards it. We’re not sure if we’re going to do that Friday or Monday. The idea from that is that we also have an individual person who does nothing but work on Sporting Kansas City’s testing protocol going forward for small-group training, full team training and games. Each and every team has been requested to go out and search for partners within their (markets). We don’t want to have to do a test and then send it back to New York. We need a much quicker turnaround, so we’ve been working on that as well. We think we have a very good solution in both situations… We will have tests, whether it’s Friday or next Monday, and we will actually be administering them as well. Right now, we believe we will do them on-site at Compass Minerals National Performance Center. We aren’t required to do tests at this time, but this will give us a trial run to see where everybody is and see how we would perform this going forward.

On whether Sporting would be willing to help other MLS clubs acquire virus tests…

If we come across a company and they can administer tests to all of the other teams in the league, we would be extremely supportive of that. This isn’t competition. We’re trying to make this work and come up with ways in which we can help. It only makes sense for us to try and help each other. If one of us comes up with a really good way to do something and everyone can benefit from that, we’re going to try to help get everyone back on the field in the best way we can. It’s about getting everyone to do it in a meaningful and safe way.

On Sporting’s safety protocols at Compass Minerals National Performance Center…

Every morning there is a protocol where we take temperatures and have questionnaires the guys have to fill out before they go to bed and in the morning before they come to training. They can’t show up if they don’t do it; same thing with the staff. On top of that, everyone gets their temperature taken. If someone is feeling great but we notice he has a high temperature, we immediately have a protocol that kicks in where he is immediately sent to our chief medical officer for our club. We would also know who else he has been around in some proximity, so then we could easily go and have those people tested and backtrack against all of those guys. The good thing is that the way we’re separated, it’s incredibly difficult for someone to infect another because of the way the guys are separated at training.

On Sporting’s dialogue with MLS about individual workouts…

They definitely ask how it’s going and if there are any pitfalls based on the initial protocol. There really hasn’t been anything glaring. There are a few (small) things that could be tweaked here or there, but if you saw our video, one colleague from a different club called me and said, “This is really over the top.” It was over the top because we wanted to make sure it was done correctly, but you also have to adapt and adjust it to your facilities and your resources. Not everybody has a Compass Minerals National Performance Center.

On how Sporting’s individual workout protocol has been widely shared elsewhere…

There are a couple of baseball teams that asked to use our video, and there’s a really big (soccer) league in the world that asked if they could use it as well because they were putting together a return-to-play protocol. They were asking if they could use it and then they would give us credit, but of course we shared it. It was no big deal.

On the intensity of individual workouts…

As much as they have worked very hard, obviously we’re doing things that they didn’t have access to before. We have formalized it, so you’re basically doing a warmup, a technical/functional aspect of training which usually has a level of fitness required, and then we always finish off with fitness. By the time the fitness is done, they’re ready to be done. From week to week, the guys have been sore and they’ve had to recover. Today we’re not even training with them. Today is a yoga day that they’re doing on Zoom at home, because we have to be really smart with how we’re building them up. They’re still very motivated to come here every day. They really are.

On the resumption of the German Bundesliga this weekend and the challenge of playing in an empty stadium…

Unfortunately I did that quite a bit in my time. I can speak as an expert on that. The time that we’re in right now is a very difficult one. Everyone knows that we’re trying to get out of this, and every little bit helps. It’s not going to be easy from a motivational point of view for those players. When those teams play in Germany, they play in full stadiums no matter which team is playing. They’re used to some really good environments. But I also think they realize the obligation they have right now in making sure it’s a safe environment. They also know they’re trying to help the country get back to some normalcy. I’ve seen their protocol for these games and it is outstanding—in how they’re bringing people to the stadium over the course of the day step by step with the production crew, talent for commentating the game, and how they keep people sequestered throughout the day so they’re not connecting with each other. It’s pretty impressive. Hopefully we’re going to be able to at least use that as an example, and hopefully we can then adapt it to some of the things we’re going to do as well.

On the amount of time Sporting needs to be ready for a competitive match…

If you gave me three to four weeks of full team training, we as a staff could get the team ready to play a game. But it just depends on what that time frame is. If you’re telling me we’re just doing individual trainings all the way up to our first game, that’s going to be very difficult. It’s all about determining what that first game date is and then working backwards. If I’m told I’m going to have two weeks of small group training and two weeks of full team training, I know what I’m working with and we as a staff will try to put the best plan and progression together for the guys to be ready to play. You also have to take into consideration that we’re all in the same boat here.

I would like to think that there would be a buildup for each team. For example, if teams came to Kansas City, there would be a time period in market that they would use to get acclimated to whatever that new environment was.

On whether the first two matches of the 2020 MLS season should still count…

If we lost our first two games, I’d say no. Since we won both of them, I’m going to say yes. All kidding aside, we’ve all played two games. We’re not starting the season. We’re (resuming) the season. Should they count? Yes. If they’re not, what am I going to do about it? I’m sure the owners are going to be making that decision. They aren’t going to be calling me and asking, “What do you think?

On what happens if the return to play keeps getting delayed…

I don’t work on the failures, I work on the achievements. The idea is that I’m an optimist. I’m thinking that everyone is going to try and work to get there. So I have to try and come up with a solution for our club. We have to try hard to figure that out. It’s kind of the same idea behind individual workouts. There are some cities that are more restricted than we are, but there are also some that are probably afraid to come out and make the decision. What I’ve said is that if the league lets us come out and do this and we show success, that could help with some of the other cities to say, “Hey, Sporting Kansas City is pulling this off. They’re able to do it. Do you feel a little more comfortable now that you’ve seen someone have success?” Is that pie in the sky? Yeah, maybe. But I’m going to keep working towards coming out of this. I’m not going to just sit around waiting for someone to do something. We’re trying to find solutions, and we’re going to keep doing that until we figure out what the case is. And if the season gets cancelled, I don’t think what we’ve done is for nothing. We’ve just got to keep moving toward the next (step).

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