MLS Preview: Sporting KC set for busy schedule

MLS Cup holders Sporting Kansas City face a marathon start to the season with Saturday's trip to Seattle their first of five games in 15 days.

Sporting will begin the 2014 MLS season away to Seattle Sounders before hosting the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final against Mexico's Cruz Azul on Wednesday, followed by matches against FC Dallas, the Liga MX leaders and San Jose Earthquakes.

Kansas City's star midfielder Graham Zusi believes Sporting are ready to go, however, having played two games a week for the past fortnight.

"We played an awful lot of games (during pre-season)," Zusi said on Tuesday.

"We set up the schedule so we'd play every Wednesday-Saturday, like we will be in the coming weeks.

"So I think we'll be up for it. We'll be ready."

Sporting played seven pre-season matches since the start of February and won four of their past five before losing 4-1 to Columbus Crew last week.

But the reigning champions will take a significant step up on Saturday, playing in front of one of the loudest stadiums in the MLS, before another big challenge against Cruz Azul, who have won their past eight matches.

Kansas City coach Peter Vermes conceded he will have to use his entire squad to get through the opening fortnight of the new season.

"We're definitely going to have to manage minutes for the players, and then also take into consideration that going up to Seattle we're going to be playing on (artificial) turf," Vermes said.

"So there are a lot of variables you have to add into the equation. At the end, there's no doubt that there's a strategy per game, and also looking long term at what we want to do."

While Sporting enter the new season with confidence after their success in 2013, the Sounders will be keen to improve after finishing fourth in the Western Conference last campaign, before they were eliminated from the play-offs in the second round.

Seattle will welcome United States international Clint Dempsey back on Saturday with the 30-year-old having spent the off-season on loan at Fulham but Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said his other players needs to make the difference this season.

"I think everyone should just back off a little bit and not put so much pressure on him," Schmid said.

"All of a sudden there's this expectation that he'll be this magic man every time he steps on the field.

"He doesn't have to be a magic man every time he steps on the field; he has to be Clint Dempsey."

Portland Timbers - who won the Western Conference last season, eliminated arch-rivals Seattle and then lost to MLS Cup runners-up Real Salt Lake - will begin their new campaign at home against Philadelphia Union, while the East's top team from 2013, the New York Red Bulls, will travel to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Real will travel south to face the Los Angeles Galaxy in a rematch of the West's semi-finals, DC United will host Columbus, while Houston Dynamo and Dallas will welcome New England Revolution and Montreal Impact to Texas respectively.

On Sunday, Chivas USA will host Chicago Fire in Los Angeles.


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