Sporting KC: Putting the Train in Brain

On Tuesday afternoon, the Editor-in-Chief was fortunate enough to be invited to Sporting Kansas City’s training facilities. This piece explores three key facts that caught my eye: cutting-edge use of video to enhance player performance; the presence of miCoach for all players; and some new learning around Sporting’s keeper strategy.

It won’t surprise any sports fan worth his weight to learn that Sporting Kansas City (SKC) tapes their practices. That not new, right? Think again.  Let’s say Sporting is suffering a goal drought.  They will solve it, leveraging video, on the practice field.  As Rui Xi, SKC’s analytics specialist says,  “If a Sporting player gets 1.5 seconds on the ball before shooting in a game, and in practice they get 2.3 seconds, we will notice this difference and adjust during training.”  Practice makes perfect –and it may be one reason that SKC is leading the Eastern Conference.

In addition, all Sporting players have a miCoach installed in the back of their jerseys. This technology allows the staff to look at heart rate, speed, covered distance, work rate and other key measures.  Coaches can tell if a player is fatigued or bursting with energy.  If a player is tried, staff will see it on miCoach and inform SKC Manager Peter Vermes.  It leads to a data-driven dialogue with the player.

Finally, it was interesting to learn this week that SKC has only three paid keepers as compared to over 25+ outfield players.  In order to allow for drills like 5+1, Sporting invites goalies from local colleges like U.M.K.C.  While these net minders are not M.L.S-quality goalies, it’s a win-win. The college kids get great practice and SKC players are able to better simulate shoots on goal.

Sporting KC is putting the brain in train. This franchise invests in key strategies such as technology that deliver demonstrable returns on the pitch.  The ownership of Cliff Ilig and Neal Patterson, along with rising stars like Rui Xi, is making the game smarter each day.  If Michael Lewis is reading, it maybe time for another book.

-Powers Trigg

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