On Sunday night, Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes explained his substitution strategy in a 2-1 Group D loss to Minnesota United FC that saw his team concede twice in second-half stoppage time to lose their opening match in the MLS is Back Tournament.
During the Orlando competition, MLS clubs are allowed to make a FIFA-approved total of five substitutions in a total of three different junctures of a match, in addition to halftime.
Vermes introduced the remaining three of five subs – attacking players Erik Hurtado, Gianluca Busio and Daniel Salloi – in the fourth minute of stoppage time with the score at 1-1. By then, his side was against the ropes as Minnesota dialed up the pressure in the wake of a 74th-minute red card shown to Sporting's Tim Melia. The red card forced Sporting backup goalkeeper Richard Sanchez to sub on in the 76th minute, just moments after Johnny Russell was the first sub in minute 73.
Vermes didn’t dispute the red card – “It’s a red card from the rules. It’s a red card,” he said – but both the Sporting manager and his players felt the incident changed the game.
“Look, we haven’t played a game for 127 days and now you’re asking the guys that have just come into the heat, haven’t played any games, and now be down a man for quite some time in the game. We weren’t ready for it and it changed things. The goalkeeper has to go out, and now you have to take a player off, put a goalkeeper on. Now your subs are changed as well. It was hard for the guys to find themselves at that moment. We tried to do a good job to close out the game the best we can. We got it to something like 80-some minutes, but we just couldn’t hold on.”
The closing stages of the match erased a generally positive showing from Sporting KC up until the red card, highlighted by the play of star forward Alan Pulido, whom Vermes called “very good … a bright spot for us.” But the Sporting manager lamented the fact that his team couldn’t find another goal to put the game away and allowed Minnesota to hang around.
“I felt like we should’ve won the game,” said forward Khiry Shelton, who scored the opening goal, but also inadvertently registered an own goal which equalized the score at 1-1. “So I’m left with some frustration.”
“We were well in control of the game,” Vermes said. “It’s the first game back after 127 days and then to have to go down a man and try to hold on from there was just a little difficult for the guys when we’re not game fit. We have to build from this from a physical perspective.”