For Peter Vermes and Sporting KC, Monday represents major step toward return to play

On Monday morning, Sporting Kansas City players did something they have done hundreds of times previously at Compass Minerals National Performance Center.

They trained together as a full team.

However, Monday’s training session felt a bit more special. It was, after all, the first time Sporting had practiced as one group since Major League Soccer’s 2020 season was suspended March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After eight weeks of at-home workouts, nearly a month of voluntary individual workouts at Compass Minerals National Performance Center, and less than a week of small group trainings, Sporting relished the return to on-field normalcy.

“You can only do so much fitness and passing between two guys here and three guys there,” Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes said. “At some point, you want to compete. You want to play little small-sided games. You want to do different things. Being able to do that now is a big help.”

Full team training is now mandatory for all players as Sporting takes the next step toward a return to match play this summer. The full team training protocol set by MLS also requires all players and essential staff to undergo regular testing for COVID-19. Players were allowed inside Compass Minerals National Performance Center today for the first time in almost three months, although they must abide by strict sanitary and distancing guidelines.

“Honestly it feels weird being in the locker room, listening to music,” forward Daniel Salloi said. “It just feels like it was such a long time ago that we still have to get used to it. But everybody’s very excited.”

Longtime Sporting veteran Graham Zusi echoed Salloi’s sentiments, expressing his delight for the on-field progress the club is making.

“It felt normal—to finally be able to walk into the building and have a little bit of a schedule and a true competitive training session with the full group,” Zusi said. “We completely understand the (training) restrictions, and we support that. But we wanted to be getting back to doing what we love to do. Today was a big step towards that.”

In addition to Sporting returning to the training pitch, fans have another reason to be licking their chops. MLS and the MLS Players Association completed a new collective bargaining agreement last Wednesday. The new CBA will run through 2025 and includes agreement on a plan to resume the 2020 campaign this summer, beginning with a tournament in Orlando.

“It’s one more step closer to playing games,” Vermes said. “I think that part is maybe the biggest thrill and biggest excitement—knowing we’re that much closer to playing games. Everybody’s very happy.”

Vermes indicated that the team still has sharpness to gain in the weeks leading up to the tournament in Orlando, but was nonetheless pleased with the first day back as a full group.

“I just think everyone’s happy to get back to a place where we can just come inside the white lines, do what we do and not have to think about all of the different things we can’t do,” he said. “It was a good first day. Being able to now start competing against each other is something we haven’t been able to do. That’s what the guys are looking forward to, and I think it’s what (we need) at this time.”