Official Sporting KC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

We’re back! Kinda.

It has been almost two months since the 2020 MLS season was put on hold. And Sporting Kansas City was not showing any signs of slowing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sporting KC is currently sitting atop the Western Conference standings after a strong start to the season with wins over the Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Houston Dynamo.

Following the league’s approval to allow voluntary individual training – players returned to the newly rebranded Compass Minerals National Performance Center on Wednesday morning.

Reflecting on the first day back, captain Matt Besler said, “To be honest with you, it felt a lot better than I thought it was going to feel. You know, I had questions myself going into this morning about just going out to a field as an individual, just how much I would be able to get out of that workout. But I was blown away with just how good it felt to be back out on the field.”

It is no surprise Sporting was one of the four clubs to begin individual workouts on May 6, considering head coach Peter Vermes and his staff had submitted a proposal to the league in April for how they may responsibly return to the training facility for individual workouts with requisite social distancing. 

As the club awaited a response – Director of Sports Performance, Joey Harty had been on the front lines to ensure the players continued a workout routine by delivering equipment to their residences and creating at-home workouts.

“[Sporting] has really done a good job to utilize all their resources,” said goalkeeper Tim Melia. “There’s been numerous Zoom workouts, [there are] protocols in place, programs to workout, equipment dropped off at everyone’s houses, nutrition, [and] supplements [and] protein powders all shipped to people’s houses. The club has gone above and beyond as always to try to make sure that they’re giving us the best within the circumstances.”

Whenever clubs are allowed to return to full team training, Vermes believes that there will have to be a mini-preseason of sorts – depending on how many weeks of training clubs have before resuming competitive play.

“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,” Vermes told the press.

Last month, MLS commissioner Don Garber told ESPN’s Taylor Twellman that he and the league are “focused at getting in as many games as possible” after expressing his intent to play a full “34-game schedule” in a previous interview.

Sporting KC President and CEO Jake Reid echoed a similar sentiment. If play resumes in June we could see a full schedule, but if it starts near the end of summer then “we could have some semblance of a season” considering a few games will be cut.

Most of us would love to see our team back in action, but scheduling will impact all facets of the game. If a full schedule is played we could see playoffs returning to the original format setting the MLS Cup in late-December.

One of the proposed scenarios is to play games behind closed doors, without fans. Midfielder Roger Espinoza reacted to that possibility:

“If we have to start with small steps, that’s okay—that’s how it must go. If the games are able to be on TV, even if fans aren’t at the stadium, that’s fine. I have not spoken with any of my teammates about that. We’re just waiting to see what our league and organization [decides], but I think the majority of our guys would be okay with that, just because we have to get our freedom back. We’ll have to see how it goes. This is something new for all of us, and it’s a test at the end of the day. No one knows how to go about it. We’re ready for whatever comes. If that means training in small groups and not being close to each other, that’s okay. I’ve seen teams in Europe starting to do that.”

Off the pitch, Sporting KC has partnered with the Victory Project to create a new program, Sporting Serves, that connects community partners participating in COVID-19 response initiatives with Kansas City residents in need.

Sporting Serves was established last month in conjunction with the launch of Sporting Community Kitchen, a coordinated effort between Sporting Kansas City, City Foods & Events and Operation BBQ Relief that provides 1,000 free hot meals every weekday to citizens throughout the metropolitan area.

In recent weeks, The Victory Project has donated surgical masks and gloves to doctors and nurses at Children’s Mercy Hospital. Additionally, Sporting KC associates are assisting in sorting and delivering PPE to emergency managers in rural communities in Kansas and Missouri to help protect first responders, health care professionals, and long-term care facility personnel.

It is difficult to determine when things will go back to normal – if they do at all – during these unprecedented times.

Are you excited to see the boys back at CMP?

Featured Image: Gary Rohman

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

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