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Community Discussion: What is Sporting KC’s Best Split Squad Setup?

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Peter Vermes says he’s splitting the squad into two to start the season, if you were the coach, how would you split the team?

MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

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

Date Opponent/Travel Location
Date Opponent/Travel Location
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).

Poll

How many players will Vermes actually use in these split squads?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    11 - No subs. No splits. Classic Vermes
    (3 votes)
  • 26%
    12-15 - Subs, but no true rotation
    (18 votes)
  • 63%
    16-20 - Almost two squads
    (43 votes)
  • 4%
    21-23 - Fully rotated squads
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    24-27 - So much rotation they’ll sign someone
    (1 vote)
68 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How many league points will SKC take in the first three league games?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    0 - CCL will devastate them
    (1 vote)
  • 43%
    1-3 - A win or three or less draws
    (28 votes)
  • 44%
    4-6 - Could win twice or a win + draws
    (29 votes)
  • 6%
    7-8 - Two wins plus at least a draw
    (4 votes)
  • 4%
    9 - Three games, three wins
    (3 votes)
65 votes total Vote Now

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).

Poll

Will PV split SKC for just preseason or will continue into CCL and league play?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Preseason Only
    (10 votes)
  • 73%
    CCL and MLS play also
    (28 votes)
38 votes total Vote Now