By JOSE M. ROMERO
PHOENIX — Closer to the big city, a couple of Major League Soccer teams are getting work done on a complex of soccer fields in frigid Arizona.
Yes, it's been record cold these days in the Valley of the Sun, but that isn't stopping Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew from training at Reach 11 West, about 25 to 30 minutes due north of downtown Phoenix.
Thursday morning, Sporting KC held its first set of longer, full-field 11-on-11 scrimmages in practice since arriving in Arizona earlier this week. Coach Peter Vermes put three forwards on one team — Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury and Omar Bravo — and had defenders Matt Besler and Chance Myers on the same team. Midfielders Jack Jewsbury and Craig Rocastle and defender Roger Espinoza were also on the pitch.
Kamara got the first goal of the scrimmage.
A third team, the Blue squad, featured rookie C.J. Sapong at forward; Graham Zusi, Davy Arnaud and Stephane Auvray at midfielder and Michael Harrington and Shavar Thomas at defender. Luke Sassano (above in photo, in all blue), acquired in a trade this offseason, also saw time.
At one point, Kamara found Bravo for an open shot that just missed high. The two new teammates acknowledged each other after the chance.
"We're starting to give ourselves a little glimpse of the guys playing 11 v. 11, because at this time of the year, especially this phase for us early in the preseason as we do our evaluations, we've got to see these guys playing new positions and see how they fit the way we play," Vermes said.
Sporting KC's staff is taking a harder look at the roster through these games and will hold scrimmages in practice more often to see how players play without as much coaching.
Expectations are raised for SKC this season.
"There's more of an understanding of who our team is, who our players are and also the style of play in which we play. All of that is here now," Vermes said. "A year ago, we were just trying to bring the best group of guys together and then over the season, develop a plan and a system and all that stuff. Now we have that in place… It's a much different preseason for us right now."
A few hundred yards away, the Columbus Crew got in some scrimmaging as well.
That's Robbie Rogers (No. 18) surveying the pitch late Thursday morning. Before the game action, the Crew had some fun in mid-practice stretching when their trainer asked them to hop around the center circle amongst each other. Guys were chest-bumping other guys, it looked like a mosh pit in there.
In the 11-on-11 action, Emilio Renteria and Jeff Cunningham played forward for the yellow team, with Emmanuel Ekpo and Eddie Gaven in the midfield and Chad Marshall at center back.
The orange team featured Rogers, defender Andy Iro and midfielders Dilly Duka and Leandre Griffit, who scored a goal.