In a candid and compelling interview with The Program host Soren Petro on Friday afternoon, Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes dished on a few defining details of the continued 2020 MLS regular season.
MLS plans to resume play in the coming weeks with a revamped league schedule, followed by the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and MLS Cup. Matches are expected to take place in home markets, and as Vermes told Sports Radio 810 WHB, Children’s Mercy Park could be positioned to welcome fans back for the first time since the 2020 home opener on March 7, a memorable 4-0 defeat of the Houston Dynamo.
“There’s definitely going to be the next phase of our games, and they’re going to be in our individual markets,” Vermes said. “Our hope and intention in Kansas City is to play in front of some percentage of fans in our stadium. Obviously it won’t be full capacity, but our objective and what we’ve been working towards with the government is to have a percentage of people in our stadium.
“We’ve been very stringent in how we’ve put our protocols together so that the fans, the referees, the opponent—we provide a safe environment for all of them. That’s our No. 1 objective if we’re going to have fans at our games.”
Sporting currently sits atop the Western Conference with 12 points and a 4-1-0 record, one point behind Supporters’ Shield leaders Columbus Crew SC and a point ahead of Midwestern rivals Minnesota United FC. Vermes’ side reached the quarterfinals of the historic MLS is Back Tournament last month, which took place inside a proverbial bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort.
As MLS transitions away from the bubble and brings games to home markets, Vermes stressed that players and staff will have to be as diligent as ever to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and allow the rest of the MLS season to unfold without interruption.
“If you look at MLS and our team before the MLS is Back Tournament…our guys were incredibly disciplined. We’re also not going to be going on long road trips. We’re probably going to charter (for road games) and fly in the morning of the game, play in the evening, and fly home afterwards. We probably aren’t going to stay overnight in another city.
“I also think we’re going to keep a lot of our games to a regional basis so that we can find success in making sure that we play a schedule and a certain number of games. I feel very confident that aspect will aid in creating a form of a bubble, if you will, for our team.”
Vermes went on to reflect deeply on Sporting’s performance at the MLS is Back Tournament, which included a first-place finish in Group D and a Round of 16 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC before a quarterfinal loss to the Philadelphia Union. In addition to speaking about specific players and their contributions on the field, the 12th-year manager expressed overall satisfaction
“We had two objectives going down to Florida, and we accomplished one of them,” Vermes said. “Our first objective was to try to get maximum points in our first three group games because they counted towards our standings in league play. Our second was to be first place in the West. Anything (past) that was going to be us playing with house money because the (knockout round) games don’t count towards league play.”
Squad depth will likely be a key factor in Sporting’s bid to remain atop the West, Vermes said. With the restructured schedule requiring clubs to play several matches in a condensed period of time, players of all ages and experience levels will get their opportunities to make an impact.
“You’ve got to keep the freshness within the group because this is a totally different season than we’ve ever had before,” he said. “If we’re going to have a close proximity of games, it’s really going to create a lot of stress if you keep the same guys out there all the time. That’s what we’ve got to be smart about, and that’s why we’ve got to keep our training intensity up, as well.”