By TATE STEINLAGE
TUKWILA, Wash. — You could call Sporting Kansas City’s opening stretch of five matches in 15 days a number of things. The team, however, will stick with “difficult.”
The defending Major League Soccer champions kick off the regular season Saturday on the road against the Seattle Sounders in their home opener. Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes told SBI Friday that the team is not downplaying the challenge ahead, but rather making sure they’re focused enough to compete for 90 minutes.
“We expect it to be a tough match being the fact that we’re on the road at their home opener and all of that,” Vermes told SBI Friday. “I think that’s where it really lays. We have to make sure that we come out and we play smart and really intelligent within the game. At the same time, we got to be smart to not give anything silly away because this is a type of group that has players that can capitalize on it.”
Defender Matt Besler, who was announced as the team’s 2014 captain Tuesday, echoed the same thing at Friday’s short training session.
“They always receive a lot of attention and they always have very talented players on their team,” Besler said. “We expect them to be one of the toughest challenges that we face.”
Vermes and Besler stressed that the team had a good week of training, despite being forced indoors due to the weather in Kansas City. However, Vermes says it’s difficult to completely prepare for a team based off of just a small chunk of preseason action.
“As much as they are who they are, nobody’s played anybody at this point, and nobody’s played any games. I’ve seen some of their games. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch their games in preseason — I did. But at the same time, we’re all trying different people, (and) we’re trying different things. There’s not a ton of consistency in all of your preseason games. We also know that an MLS game compared to a preseason game is much different in the environment.”
Seattle certainly is trying different things. The Sounders spent the offseason reshaping their squad around manager Sigi Schmid in his fifth year in charge. The result, collectively, is a team that is much younger, faster, and stylishly different from the group that faced Sporting KC last May.
“I think they have a team that they can be a little bit more direct at times as they want to, especially with Kenny Cooper, playing such a big guy like that,” Vermes said. “I also think that (Osvaldo) Alonso has always been the lynchpin sorta for them. He connects everything and the ball goes through him a lot. He’s just an engine for them. So those are the little things we’ll have to be cognizant of as we go into the game.”
Sporting KC will also look to break a nasty streak dating back to 2011 against the Sounders. In three matches during that span, Seattle has scored four goals in the 80th minute or later.
“We’ll have it in the back of our mind,” Besler said about the streak. “We know, especially at Century Link (Field), they’re a team that’s going to fight until the last minute. They’re going to use the crowd to their favor. They’re a team that can score late, so that’s something we have to be aware of.”
Saturday’s match can be seen on NBC Sports at 3 p.m. ET.