Sporting Kansas City played games number six and seven of their eleven game preseason schedule, which will culminate with the team kicking off their 2011 Major League Soccer season against Chivas USA on March 19. The results were mostly good news - a scoreless draw against MLS expansion club Portland Timbers, and a 2-0 victory over Montreal Impact, who are set to join the league before the 2012 season. As is always the case with preseason results, though, it's not as much about the result as it is the coaches' evaluations.
Sporting KC techincal director/head coach Peter Vermes took part in a conference call after the team returned back to their preseason Arizona homebase in Phoenix. Among the many topics discussed were, of course, Saturday's doubleheader, the battle to start in the center of defense and the health status of forward Ryan Smith.
- Forwards Teal Bunbury and Ryan Smith could re-join the team in Arizona (not as full-participants) in "the next week or so."
- The team is in a holding pattern, waiting on some things to happen, or to get done, which could involve more new player signings this offseason.
- Vermes was very impressed with the performance of defender Matt Besler in Saturday's game against Portland.
- Another player that Vermes has taken notice of, thanks to his recent performances, is midfielder/defender Luke Sassano.
Quotes from Vermes on all of these topics, and more, after the jump...
On midfielder/defender Luke Sassano and his health status recovering from ankle surgery:
Another guy that's actually been doing pretty well, that we picked up in the re-entry draft, is Luke Sassano. He's coming off his injury, and today he got about 50 minutes and that's probably where he is at the moment. He's slowly, slowly creeping up, and playing pretty well, actually.
He can play a lot of positions. He's a versatile guy that has a little bit of experience in MLS, and that's always a benefit. As the league expands, there's less and less guys on teams that have that experience.
On the game against Portland Timbers and their joining of the league:
Portland, obviously, is in the stages of building their team.They're a pretty interesting group; they've got quite a few MLS players already on [the team]. I'd have to say they were pretty organized and compact.
Even the scoreline doesn't show it, I think that it was probably one of the better games we've played so far in preseason, from a number of perspectives. I thought the way we built out of the back to attack them on different flanks, guys were pretty dangerous.
As the game progressed, though, probably around the 70-minute mark, we started to die a little bit, and that was kind of expected. We're trying to push the majority of guys to 90 minutes. Some are between 75 and 90 minutes, knowing full well that we're trying to strive to get to 90 minutes. The intensity level that we want to be at, we're just not there yet, and we're pushing some guys beyond their limits.
I would say throughout the game, we had the better of the play and controlled the tempo pretty well.
On the game against Montreal Impact:
We played a few guys that we are looking at. We did move the lineup around a little bit in the second half (of the first game), which then translated into some players playing in the second game, as well.
From the outset of the game, I thought we really controlled the pace of the game, we forced some quite a few opportunities and they had one good chance in the first half against us. But, besides that, we were really all over them. We ended up finishing the game off forcing an own goal with our pressing game. In the second half, we came up with quite a few really good chances, and one that eventually turned into a penalty kick, which C.J. (Sapong) created and finished.
On the injury situations of forwards Ryan Smith and Teal Bunbury, and how their absences have affected Vermes' lineups and tactics:
Actually, I just talked to Ryan a little while ago. He's actually doing pretty well. His whole situation is he really just needs to rest. He just needed some swelling to go down, and it's gotten a lot better in a short period of time. So, there's a good chance he might be coming out here (to Arizona) in the next week or so.
In regards to Teal, I think he might be joining us as well this week, just because he'll be able to start running and he'll have a brace for his elbow and all kinds of stuff.
You have to remember - the way we play, let's just think about forwards: we have Omar (Bravo), (Birahim) Diop, Sapong, Kei Kamara, (Graham) Zusi, who can play out there and Davy Arnaud. It's quite a few guys that can still play in those positions, so I'm not really too concerned.
At some point, we're going to suffer, whether it be injuries or we're going to lose some guys to their national teams. This year is going to be a very difficult year from that point of view with World Cup qualifiers and Gold Cup this summer, so it's going to give a lot of opportunities to some other guys, and we have to make sure that they are prepared, as well. They're getting it now, which is a good thing.
On narrowing down the roster to the 30-man limit:
I would say by Wednesday, we should be narrowing this team down to where we want it to be. I don't necessarily know if all guys will be here that will eventually be under contract, but we'll be narrowing this team down to almost the last couple roster spots.
A couple of guys in the second game have shown that they're getting closer and closer to possibly being a part of the roster here at Sporting Kansas City.
[Julio Cesar Santos] is not out. As you know, we've been looking at quite a few guys in that position of the field and we're still making some determinations around that position. He's not out, though. We haven't solidified anything yet.
On Matt Besler's preseason performances:
Today way his best performance, actually since we started preseason. Matt has a lot of really, really good qualities for the position. Again, it's the tricks of the trade that he has to continue to hone his skills on... I think that today he really performed well, in all the aspects of the game; his defending, his aerial game and his passing out of the back helped us start the attack very good.
If Matt can keep up this level of play that he has right now, he's got a very good shot to be in there (starting lineup) at the start of the season.
Revealing possible additional new player signings as the roster is finalized:
There's a couple things that are right now pending on a few guys that could tip the scale (of the final roster spot battles) one way or another. I would say that we would be pretty close to having a full roster, but I can't tell exactly yet, based on a couple of players that we're still waiting on their paperwork. I do think we're getting pretty close to anywhere from a 28- to a 30-man roster.
They (potential new player signings) are not in camp with us right now, and we're just working on those guys.
Also, something that wasn't really pertinent to the big picture of the 2011 season, thus not deserving of its own section: Vermes gave an answer, when asked whether defender Roger Espinoza's pension for hard fouls and picking up bookings (he was carded on Saturday after being sent off last week against Houston Dynamo) is something they've talked to him about, that I feel really says a lot about him as a coach and what he expects of his players.
No, not at all, actually. I actually like it, to be honest with you. I wasn't at the game against Houston, but all of my reports that I got, I like the fact that he stood up for the rest of the team. A couple of our guys got injured in that game, it got out of control, and at some point, if the players aren't being protected one way, the unfortunately some of the players have to take it upon themselves, and that's what occurred in that game.
In this last game, look, Roger is a defender, and sometimes you have to go hard. It's a man's game, and whether he gets called for it or not, he needs to play hard in certain situations, and I was actually very pleased with his performance today.
I don't think it's a problem at all. It might be a problem for some of the other teams in the league, but it's not a problem for the way that he's playing for our team, I'll tell you that.