We are back with another installment of “Community Discussions,” where we ask you, the reader, to head to the comments and weigh in on what you would do. If you are new to the format, be sure to head here to see how it’s done.
As always, I’m not going to ask you to do all the work. I’ll quickly break down how I would split the squad below. But first, a little primer on why it needs to be split at all.
Tell me more about these split squads
The Kansas City Star reported that Sporting Kansas City will not roll out their best XI players when they take the field against Toluca FC on February 21st. The reason being the intense travel and compressed schedule to start the regular season. To quote Sam McDowell, here is their travel schedule from preseason into the start of the season.
“Phoenix. Kansas City. Back to Phoenix. Back to Kansas City. Albuquerque, N.M. Toluca, Mexico. Los Angeles. And back to Kansas City once more. All in seven weeks’ time.”
They are currently in phase one. They are in Phoenix for preseason. After the scrimmage on January 30th they’ll head back to KC, only to return to Phoenix on the 6th before their double-header (with a split squad) against USL Championship club, Phoenix Rising FC on the 7th. They’ll then play another split squad game on the 13th against the Houston Dynamo and FC Tucson before going back to KC for the first leg against Toluca.
They’ll then head to Albuquerque to adjust to the altitude before going to Mexico. Then they go straight to LA for the MLS season opener. What makes it even crazier is if they beat Toluca they don’t go back to KC but instead go to an undetermined location. Likely they’d go to Toronto to play Toronto FC, assuming they get past Panama’s Club Atletico Independiente.
Because of all this, and the compressed schedule, Vermes has indicated he’ll split the squad in two.
“It won’t be an A team and a B team — just two teams playing regularly in the exact same progression,” Vermes said. “The objective is we go deep into the tournament, we have to have two teams playing. I can’t load up the team right away. We’re going to have to really manage and be strategic about how we do this.”
I’m a visual person. Let’s break this travel and game schedule down to get an idea why Vermes is having his hand forced at splitting the squad.
Sporting KC’s Next Two Months
|Friday, January 18, 2019||Sporting AZ||Scottsdale, AZ|
|Wednesday, January 23, 2019||Phoenix Rising FC Trialists||Scottsdale, AZ|
|Wednesday, January 30, 2019||FC Tucson Trialists||Scottsdale, AZ|
|Thursday, January 31, 2019||Travel to Kansas City||Kansas City|
|Wednesday, February 6, 2019||Travel to Arizona||Scottsdale, AZ|
|Thursday, February 7, 2019||Phoenix Rising FC^||Scottsdale, AZ|
|Wednesday, February 13, 2019||Houston Dynamo & FC Tucson*||Tucson, AZ|
|Thursday, February 14, 2019||Travel to Kansas City~||Kansas City|
|Thursday, February 21, 2019||Toluca FC||Kansas City, KS|
|Friday, February 22, 2019||Travel to New Mexico~||Albuquerque, NM|
|Wednesday, February 27, 2019||Travel to Toluca, Mexico~||Toluca, Mexico|
|Thursday, February 28, 2019||Toluca FC||Toluca, Mexico|
|Friday, March 1, 2019||Travel to Los Angeles||Los Angeles, CA|
|Sunday, March 3, 2019||LAFC||Los Angeles, CA|
|Monday, March 4, 2019||Travel to Toronto or Panama**||Toronto or Panama|
|Wednesday, March 6, 2019||Toronto FC or CAI**||Toronto or Panama|
|Thursday, March 7, 2019||Travel to Kansas City**||Kansas City|
|Sunday, March 10, 2019||Philadelphia Union||Kansas City, KS|
|Wednesday, March 13, 2019||Toronto FC or CAI**||Kansas City, KS|
|Saturday, March 16, 2019||Travel to Colorado||Denver, CO|
|Sunday, March 17, 2019||Colorado Rapids||Denver, CO|
^Two 75-minute games with split squads.
*Both games going on simultaneously, presumably with splits squads again.
~Approximate travel dates — I’m not that in the know and I’m definitely not their travel agent.
**Travel and games as necessary if SKC advance in CCL.
So it is somewhat clear why Sporting KC would choose to run split squads. That’s a brutal schedule of travel and games, especially the very beginning of CCL and league play overlapping like that. I said in the past something to the effect of I’m not buying the need for two starters at every position because Sporting would need to advance in CONCACAF Champions League for that to be necessary. That said, it appears I was wrong and they need it out of the gate to even have a chance at advancing, though Vermes sounded a bit pessimistic about their chances on the media conference call the other day.
Splitting the Squad
The team said repeatedly last week to not look deeply into the groups that played together last Friday, but I just can’t help myself. Here they are:
First XI - Tim Melia, Graham Zusi, Andreu Fontas, Matt Besler, Rodney Wallace, Ilie Sanchez, Kelyn Rowe, Felipe Gutierrez, Johnny Russell, Erik Hurtado, Gerso Fernandes
Second XI - Adrian Zendejas, Jaylin Lindsey, Graham Smith, Mo Abualnadi (SKC Academy), Seth Sinovic, Wan Kuzain, Roger Espinoza, Gianluca Busio, Yohan Croizet, Wilson Harris (SPR), Daniel Salloi
Now, it’s worth noting three players were out with injuries: Ike Opara, Krisztian Nemeth and Botond Borath. I don’t imagine a world, assuming they are all healthy, that they aren’t a part of one of the two groups.
Though Vermes has indicated it’s not as though one team is going to be better than the other, I don’t see why you wouldn’t stay the deck for Toluca. SKC plays them, then plays them again a week later. I’d put my best XI on the field for those games, then you could split the squad after.
There is risk. That could mean losing to LAFC in the season opener and if they advance then the “B Team” is playing the home opener against the Philadelphia Union. The LA game will be hard to win regardless if it’s your best squad or not coming off a game three days earlier at altitude, so for me, it’s worth going for it against Toluca. That’s exactly what Toronto did last year and their season was ruined. Then again, I think that had more to do with injuries than squad rotation.
With that in mind, here are my clearly divided groups, where the “A” team is superior and the “B” grouping is just trying to get by in those first few league games.
A Team - Melia, Zusi, Opara, Besler, Sinovic, Ilie, Espinoza, Gutierrez, Russell, Nemeth, Salloi
B Team - Melia, Lindsey, Borath, Fontas, Wallace, Kuzain, Rowe, Busio, Croizet, Hurtado, Gerso
Obviously the A team is loaded, but the B team isn’t bad. I figure all this talk about CCL, go big or go home. The whole team is more familiar with each other. It could/should negate the huge advantage Toluca has being in midseason form.
This also highlighted for me how shallow winger is that Croizet is forced to start there. I don’t like him as a winger and I’m tempted to put in Tyler Freeman and let Croizet sub in for both teams since he has such positional diversity. I don’t foresee the rookie getting into the starting lineup (or even on the field) that early.
Now it’s Your Turn
Head to the comments and tell me how you’d split the squad. And if that’s too much work, at least vote in these polls (if you are viewing in Google AMP or Apple News you won’t see the polls unfortunately).
How many players will Vermes actually use in these split squads?
This poll is closed
11 - No subs. No splits. Classic Vermes
12-15 - Subs, but no true rotation
16-20 - Almost two squads
21-23 - Fully rotated squads
24-27 - So much rotation they’ll sign someone
How many league points will SKC take in the first three league games?
This poll is closed
0 - CCL will devastate them
1-3 - A win or three or less draws
4-6 - Could win twice or a win + draws
7-8 - Two wins plus at least a draw
9 - Three games, three wins
Because of some disagreement in the comments on what Vermes means by splitting the squad, I added another poll (again, only viewable outside of Google AMP and Apple News).
Will PV split SKC for just preseason or will continue into CCL and league play?
This poll is closed
CCL and MLS play also