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Sporting Kansas City takes a leap in “Arms race” with Pinnacle

A rundown of many of the technological features of the new training facility

The players will eat breakfast and lunch with the cauldron
Thad Bell

“….. is this heaven?”

“It’s Kansas City.”

The plaudits are rolling in for Kansas City’s Place of Dreams:

But let’s be honest … and real. Plaudits nor superlatives, nor words, do it justice. Nor does soccer icon David Beckham’s – he of Manchester United, Real Madrid, England World Cup teams, LA Galaxy, AC Milan, and PSG experience – pronouncement that Pinnacle is easily in the top five such facilities in the world when he and the rest of Miami MLS owners toured Pinnacle a few weeks ago. It is literally a place one has to see, moreover, experience, to understand.

“It doesn’t matter what I say to you, when you come in you are blown away. Even for me, I’m still amazed when I walk in,” stated Peter Vermes, Sporting KC’s technical director and manager. “Some people have certain reactions to certain things, and I laugh because I still have the same reaction.”

Pinnacle is a first-of-its-kind joint-venture between Sporting Club, the U.S. Soccer Federation, and Children’s Mercy Hospital with the first two and the Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Center as its tenants.

The hub of Pinnacle is the 81,100 square foot interior home to the facilities for each entity that sits in the middle of the 50.49 acre center that includes three grass pitches for Sporting Kansas City and U.S. National Team usage, as well as two lighted synthetic fields and a beach soccer pitch designed to international guidelines.

When it comes to soccer, the training center will be home to U.S. Soccer programming and provide a national permanent, centralized home for the instruction of referees and coaches overseen by FC Utrecht and Dutch Federation trained and experienced coaching educator Antal Vergeer, who will make Pinnacle his home for 90% of the year. Moreover, Pinnacle will host youth and senior-level clubs and national teams from around the world and serve as the new training facility for Sporting Kansas City.

Yes, outside, the playing fields are lined with wifi and cameras to record every movement of players and coaches and provide instant feedback. Yes, there is a multi-level coaching perch for observation. Yes, there is “Plyo-peak” for getting players into tip-top shape. And, yes, the windows on the whole back side of the building that face the training fields can all be blacked out to keep training private. “I’ll be using that a lot,” quipped Vermes, known for his sometimes stealthy methods.

But those amenities don’t even touch what is inside.

The Great Hall welcomes visitors with its plush multipurpose space and the SKC trophy wall, and continuing on, a generous press conference area to the right. To the left are both the banquet serving area and the coach and referee classrooms and locker rooms. Straight ahead is the balcony that overlooks the “Super Pitch” (the three natural grass fields).

But let’s venture into the bowels of the building that include the team locker rooms, lounge, offices, the performance lab, and the gym and explore the eye-popping technology that is the functional heart of Pinnacle.

Panoramic view of the Super Pitch

The Locker Rooms and Offices – where the daily routines will happen.

“They’ve gone through our day, and everything a soccer player needs to perform at the highest level, they have given us,” reflected Sporting Kansas City team captain Matt Besler.

As players come in from the training fields, the locker room layout allows for efficient movement and necessary recovery. Stepping inside, players take their boots/gloves off for flip-flops, walk five or six feet and remove their clothes for “biking” tights, weigh themselves, then walk through a door into two rinse-off showers. Once rinsed, they immediately enter one of two recovery pools – one 105 degrees and one 55 degrees with televisions for entertainment, even one for treatment of “raspberries”. Then they hit the actual cleaning showers to complete the after-training circuit that no player will be allowed to skip.

Inside the identical locker rooms, spaces are colored blue for SKC and Red for US Soccer; the lockers themselves are made for safe and efficient storage, complete with today’s expected device amenities and televisions. Need a trim, a new trendy “‘do” like new Designated player Felipe Gutierrez’s? Step into the barber shop dreamt up by Vermes reflection on the fact the players have a barber who comes in often. He asked. Done.

For Vermes and his staff, offices and the “War Room”, consisting of two adjacent rooms with walls of monitors and two walls of whiteboards for analysis of opponents are down the hall. A large touch screen monitor features on another wall to formulate presentations for the players.

The amenities are not taken for granted by anyone.

“We know that everybody at this club has put in a lot of effort for us to be successful. They set the bar high. The expectations are high…” said veteran midfielder Roger Espinoza. “As players we want to reward them for that and work out. And for the fans in town… As a player, you are very proud that you have people behind you pushing you every day and making everything so much easier.”

The Performance Lab – giving new meaning to the phrase “Sporting fit”.

A few steps away is the where things get crazy cool. A veritable smorgasbord of user-friendly technology and equipment to push ultimate performance and insure medically-sound and safe decisions for players is housed that accentuates the separate but integrated facility for patients of the Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Center.

A hot topic in recent times is addressed in the “neuropsych” room for concussion testing that includes a full-body scan machine that can “incredibly accurately” tell what a person’s body fat is and where that fat is located. Close are the exam rooms and full-time doctors’ offices. Next is the Chryotherapy room where a patient’s temperature can be dropped to aid recovery, as well as hyperbaric chambers that provide oxygen therapy where air pressure is increased to 3x higher than normal so lungs can gather more oxygen to stimulate release of growth factors and stem cells to aid in healing and fighting bacteria.

Thad Bell

Is Sporting heading to Denver or Salt Lake City or wherever for their next match? A room in which altitudes up to 20,000 feet and high and low atmospheric temperatures can be simulated awaits. More tools beckon, like a treadmill with force plates under the deck to reveal if a player favors a particular leg, and plates in the floor for testing jumping and the strength of one leg relative to the other, EKG machines, a VO2 Max machine to determine one’s endurance level during prolonged exercise, and an echocardiogram. And yet another type of Recovery room is ready to welcome fatigued athletes, also with the requisite televisions, but unique with its eight vibrating 45° chairs that players sit in for 30 minutes while donning compression gear, special goggles, and headphones. Each player will be required to sit to aid recovery every day. And, finally, a traditional massage therapy room.

Longtime medical guru Chet North overseas The Performance Lab; it, and the surrounding areas, are staffed with a nutritionist; assistant athletic trainers; sports performance and strength and conditioning personnel; and Kurt Andrews, the new director of sports medicine.

The Gym – a space shared with Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Center

“It wouldn’t be the facility it is if Children’s Mercy had not come in as a partner,” stated Sporting Club President Jake Reid. “When we did the [naming rights] deal with the stadium a couple of years ago, this was part of the vision of what we were going to do.”

Shared with Children’s Mercy, the expansive Sports Performance Gym, at 12,870 sq ft, dwarfs the one at the Swope Park training facility Sporting Kansas City previously inhabited. It includes a shortened lap pool and a therapy pool, including a treadmill in water complete with cameras in the water to analyze a runner, a gait lab – there are only two or three others in the world - that has force plates in ground and over 20 cameras to analyze how efficiently an athlete runs, all with a massive 32’ x 9’ display that will show training videos, etc. dominating over the thoroughly outfitted cardio and weight area.

What does it all mean?

An outlying benefit, but an important one, is that Pinnacle can be a revenue producer for Sporting Club, able to host weddings, banquets, meetings, etc., as well as foreign clubs and national teams.

“Our sales pitch [to attract foreign interests] is we are dead center in the country, so it is easy to get in and out as you are going to New York or Los Angeles and everywhere else,” said Reid, “We believe that once we get a few teams in here, the word will spread… We hope to host Gold Cups and those competitions that are ongoing every few years, and this gives us a huge competitive advantage. We expect those things to start happening pretty quickly.”

Furthermore, Sporting KC is positioning itself as a leader, once again, in being an attractive destination for players and in getting the most out of the athletes they do have. A smaller market like Kansas City needs to create and emphasize its advantages, even in a single-entity league like MLS, to ensure it can compete. “It is an arms race, and we’ve put ourselves in the position that we have the best asset in the sport,” summed up Reid.

Yet overall, Pinnacle is a win-win-win for soccer in KC and the United States, and Kansas City.

“There are three parts to it. For Sporting Kansas City, it is an incredible facility for us to train and work in every day and use all the technology. And the recruiting aspect,” said Vermes. “For U.S. Soccer, for a coaching, refereeing, and National Team perspective – they have never had anything like this. It probably comes at the best time with the failure to qualify for the World Cup.”

He closed, “And for Children’s Mercy, just for the area and so many kids that play all different sports that have the ability to come here and use this as a rehab clinic – what an unbelievable place to be a part of.”

“Unbelievable” may be the only word that fits Pinnacle.

Seeing is truly believing, and understanding, for many.

Here’s to Sporting Club offering the general public, or at least season-ticket holders, an opportunity to see and experience Pinnacle for themselves.