Peter Vermes is nothing if not optimistic that the entire MLS regular season will be played once the coronavirus pandemic slows down.
The Sporting Kansas City head coach shared his thoughts on a conference call on Thursday afternoon, and, should the league return to action before too long, he thinks they can still play an entire 34 game schedule. He thinks it’s possible, but it could come at the cost of fixture congestion and the playoffs going into December as they did in years past.
“So much depends on when we return, but I think everybody would love to see us play all of the games,” Vermes said. “If that means we have to play Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday, I think most of us would say we’d do it. We want to uphold the integrity of competition as best we can, but it’s all going to depend on when we return.”
MLS postponed its season indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic after two weeks of regular season play. The league was set to follow a similar calendar to last season, with the playoffs taking place throughout the month of October and into November. Before last season though, MLS Cup took place in the first week of December after a longer playoff format. It’s conceivable, according to Vermes, that the playoffs could once again push into the final month of the year.
“We can see us playing the MLS Cup again in December in this situation,” he said. “I would think that the format of the playoffs from last year would be kept in place, there’s still a lot of time to work with and I don’t think anything is off the table at the moment.”
Regardless of how the rest of 2020 shapes out, MLS will have to get clearance to play any games at all. Vermes admitted that there is no way any players will be in game shape after a long layoff away from team facilities. He feels that a three to four week “mini-preseason” would be required to get the players back into full fitness.
Vermes has been in regular contact with his players and training staff, who are making sure players are doing the most they can with home exercise equipment. All of his players remained in the Kansas City area except for 17-year-old Gianluca Busio, who’s parents requested he return home to North Carolina, and they’ve all been keeping in touch with each other during this period of isolation.
Many challenges come along with this, but one of the biggest ones from a team perspective is making sure everyone can keep themselves in shape despite not having access to SKC’s professional workout facilities.
“I think what’s difficult is… a soccer field is 75 yards wide and 120 yards long,” Vermes said. “Most guys don’t have that in their backyard and most guys don’t have a weight room. A lot of things we’ve had to do just here in Kansas City, we’ve had to deliver equipment to players to their houses so they have the ability to do a lot of these things on their own or in their houses because they don’t have it. You’ve got to remember also that we have a lot of foreign players that are in our league, as well. A lot of them are in apartments.”
The players are making do with what they can, though. They’ve remained in touch with their teammates in much the same way many workers have kept in touch with their colleagues throughout the world, albeit with a bit of an athletic twist.
“They’re using Zoom and doing workouts with small groups of guys so that they still have interaction with each other, because obviously they play a team sport,” Vermes said. “They don’t play an individual sport. That camaraderie is still something that we’re trying to keep with the players.”
When all is said and done, Vermes and his team know that staying in shape for whenever the season restarts is priority number one. If MLS decides to come back with a full season after lockdowns are lifted nationwide, then he wants his team to be in the best shape it can be when the time comes.
“I think everybody is going to try to work toward being sharp and all those things from a soccer perspective,” he said. “But I think the first part is the fitness because you’re trying to make sure that the guys, when they return, that they’re not in a position to get injured. So that’s going to be the main priority.”