Kansas City settles in for another preseason in Old Pueblo | Soccer notes
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Soccer notes

Kansas City settles in for another preseason in Old Pueblo

Vermes uses familiar surroundings to work in new players

Sporting Kansas City had by all but one measure a successful season last year. A seven-game winning streak at the beginning of the season put them in first place in the Eastern Conference, a position they kept until the beginning of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, injuries in the fall contributed to an early ouster from the playoffs. Even more frustrating for players and fans was that they were defeated by Houston Dynamo, the same team that vanquished them in 2011.

Still, the team ended with the second-best regular season record in the league. So, as they started their preseason in Tucson this week, what does coach Peter Vermes think they need to work on?

“We’ve definitely improved our roster, for sure. We’re much deeper than we were a year ago” said Vermes after a team practice session. “The key is trying to indoctrinate those guys into the way we play, with our style and with the way we are physically on the field.”

“We don’t like to say we are ‘fit’, we like to say we are ‘Sporting fit,” he said. “There is a very specific fitness level we need to play on this team.”

It may seem one of those totally obvious things: make sure your players are conditioned to run around on a soccer pitch for 90 minutes, but it is a lot harder for teams to manage than it sounds. Vermes and SKC have an additional challenge this year: their success last season gave them a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League, meaning they have an additional set of games on top of their MLS schedule. MLS has taken steps to give teams playing in the tournament a bit of a rest between games, but flying off to Costa Rica or Jamaica for matches will wear even the most fit players down.

And don’t forget midweek U.S. Open Cup games. SKC has that hallowed trophy to defend this year too.

Vermes walks into this season with a line-up that looks much the same as last with one glaring exception. Long time Sporting midfielder (and Arizona soccer fans will note, formerly of Yavapai College and the Arizona Sahuaros) Roger Espinoza transferred to English club Wiggan Athletic FC. The tenacious Espinoza started 26 of 34 games for the squad in the 2012 season.

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The team is bringing in two new players, but they aren’t necessarily straight up replacements for the Hounduran midfielder. The team picked up former New England Revolution midfielder Benny Feilhaber off of waivers and added former LDU Quito striker Claudio Bieler.

“Roger going over to Wiggan left a little gap,” Vermes said. “Benny is a little different player than Roger is. He’s more of a play maker, which is something I feel that we actually needed.”

“We added a new designated player in Claudio Bieler, who is a pure finisher. Not to say that we don’t already have guys that can,” Vermes noted.

Vermes had a team that regularly started four of the better forwards in the league, but a little bit of redundancy helps with what the team will face this year.

“We’ve improved our roster over all. We need a lot more depth with especially with the three competitions we are playing this year,” Vermes said. “We just have to be a stronger team. I think we’ve done that.”

Kansas City’s first match in Tucson will be next Tuesday against FC Tucson. The game will be at Kino SportsPark’s Field 5 at 6 p.m.

Same Old Pueblo with better fields

That game against FC Tucson will be the second time the two teams will face off, and it is the third trip to the Old Pueblo for the team.

“It’s a great organization,” Vermes said about FC Tucson. “Professional teams can be demanding. Without us going over the top they know that they want to get us the best amenities for us.”

Last year’s scrimmage the two teams was played on cold and rainy day where some even spotted a bit of snow. The weather conditions caused problems on the repurposed baseball diamond, and SKC’s forward Kei Kamara tripped over a seam in the grass. Vermes called the match off early.

He wasn’t happy with the conditions, but he was happy with the reaction.

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“Last year, we talked about fixing the infields. It’s done,” he said. “Obviously, they have worked hard. Obviously the city and the county has. They are a great organization to work with that’s for sure.”

The players have gotten used to the routine of coming to Tucson as well. Wing back Chance Myers has made all three trips to Tucson with the team, and he agrees with one of the region’s big Winter selling points.

“We’re always looking forward to come down here. It’s warmer than Kansas City,” said Myers.

The training schedule doesn’t leave a lot of time to enjoy the city, however.

“The time we have off, all we want to do is eat or sleep,” he said. “Some of us get out and go to a basketball game. It’s Arizona.”

“It’s a great area, almost guaranteed nice weather this time of year when we come here,” said goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who is also making his third trip to Tucson. “The fields are getting better.”

“We are very familiar with the area. It’s important to be comfortable when you are staying somewhere for a long time,” Nielsen said. “It’s a great spot. I’m very happy to be back.”

Sejle opad åen!

Nielsen played for the U-19 and U-21 national teams in his native Denmark, as well as four appearances for the Danish League’s best XI squad, but is trying his best to be neutral for Saturday’s match between De Rød-Hvide and Canada.

“I just want to see a good exciting game,” he said. “But if I have to pick a team, I’ll pick Denmark.”

Since the game is a friendly, the Danish players that fans of the more popular European leagues are familiar with are not going to be playing. The team will consist of players from Denmark’s Superliga.

Nielsen thinks fans will like to see Dennis Rommedahl. Rommedahl had played for both AFC Ajax and Charlton Athletic before settling in to his current club, Brøndby IF. An appearance on Saturday will put Rommedahl only seven games behind legendary Danish goal keeper Peter Schmeichel as the most capped player in Danish history.

“Keep an eye on him. He’s a very fast, very solid player,” Nielsen said. “He’s played for the biggest teams in Europe. He’s a great player.”

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Sporting Kansas City

Preseason schedule and results

  • Jan. 24 - Sporting Kansas City 0 - New England Revolution 0, Casa Grande
  • Jan. 29 - vs. FC Tucson, 6 pm, Tucson
  • Feb. 2 - vs. Portland Timbers FC, 6 pm, Tucson
  • Feb. 9 - vs. Impact de Montréal, 1 pm, Kissimmee, FL
  • Feb. 13 - vs. DC United, 5 pm, Kissimmee, FL
  • Feb. 16 - vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, 6 pm, Kissimmee, FL

Tucson area matches will be at Kino Sports Park. For more information, visit www.fctucson.com or call 334-1115.