Sporting KC owner Cliff Illig discusses the work of Peter Vermes


Peter Vermes is hoping to bolster his injury-plagued Sporting KC roster in Major League Soccer’s annual summer transfer window.

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Late Sunday night, Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes walked onto the field at Children’s Mercy Park, and the club recognized a milestone that none of its peers had achieved: 500 games in charge.

It’s a signature of the stability of a franchise, but only 24 hours later, not enough time to appreciate the accomplishment, the club has fallen into a more unbalanced present.

As in, last place.

The sport is uncharacteristically bad this season, worse than any other team in its league right now, for reasons we’ll explore. But for starters, we don’t want to lose the title, because that’s probably why you’re here:

This one-season miss won’t affect Vermes’ long-term position with the organization.

It’s not just my opinion.

From the owner:

“You know, I don’t read a lot of it, but people tell me on social media saying I’m getting rid of Peter,” Sporting KC main owner Cliff Illig told me recently, then he walked away. hand cut through the air. “It will not arrive.”

Before being asked for his reasoning, Illig continued, “Peter is very thoughtful. It is very well organized. He has a long-term plan – not only for what we do with the senior team, but also for what we do with the supply chain for young players.

“So I’m not freaked out or anything. We have to get out of this. And I think we will come out of this much stronger than before.

Incidentally, this initial reference to social media came without prompting, as that is where these types of reactionary calls for change have become most common. It’s a bridge too far in this case, although it’s not the worst thing in the world to have a fan base so invested in a franchise once left for dead that they’re angry at what they are looking at 2022.

After all, there is reason to be frustrated. Sporting got all 16 points in 19 games. The team have a losing record at home with a schedule more than half exhausted and, for the first time in eight seasons, they have lost three consecutive matches at home.

Even though the loss of striker Alan Pulido and midfielder Gadi Kinda to season-ending injuries contributed to last place, it would be too simple to consider these breaks as the sole sources of these results. The problems span all three lines, each of which is too vacant of the kind of elite talent that has flooded into the league in recent seasons.

Vermes, in his role as both manager and sporting director, is responsible for the roster he has built, as well as preparing for those times – like right now – when everyone on that roster fails. are not available.

At times this season, Sporting KC seemed to go through the stages. It was pretty obvious that Captain Johnny Russell earlier this year called a game half shameful, pathetic, unacceptable, embarrassing and surrendering, and he needed no more than a breather. to do it. Having defined their 2021 season with comebacks, Sporting are yet to earn a point when conceding the first goal this year.

That’s why we’re having this state of the union conversation nowin other words.

“Obviously from a pitch point of view it’s disappointing,” Illig said. “We just got crushed between the two (designated players) for the year. Do not find excuses. It’s sports. Things happen. … You just have to make the adjustments, and we’re pretty happy with how things are going (long term) with Peter in charge.

Vermes’ handprints are woven into the fabric of an organization that transformed as an afterthought (and that’s nice) when he arrived over a decade ago, at one that the city kissed her. Ironically, in this way, he created the passion that triggers some of the backlash he is currently experiencing.

But in the bigger picture, Sporting Kansas City have made the playoffs in 11 of the past 12 seasons, though they are heading for their second failure in four. Since Vermes returned to his dual role full-time, Sporting have won four trophies. Yes, three of them are US Open Cup titles, one of the most coveted in the MLS Cup. The team is 4 for 4 in the final. Since their first full season in 2010, Sporting KC have only finished with a negative goal differential once (again, it will be twice after the end of this season).

There are few professional franchises that have achieved this kind of consistency in any sport, and it’s not a lesson I should share with anyone in this town, although you’d certainly love to see some of the same continuity spilling over into the playoffs. more often. These are the types of resumes you look for when looking to fill vacancies, not create them.

Tired of faltering in the playoffs? Well, there are two ways to solve this problem, not just one.

Moving forward with all the work — and that’s the phrase Illig used to point out Vermes — isn’t about rewarding past success. It is studying past success and judging that, guess what, that could be an indicator of future success. It’s also about what should be an obvious admission – this season is not the norm.

The big picture has to account for something – more than anything, really – even though we can all agree that this group felt 2022. Rather than changing at the top, that kind of admission will be the important thing. to keep 2022 an outlier at an otherwise constant strength. Of course, Pulido and Kinda’s injuries, which occurred before the season even started, were curve balls. They happen to be in the goalscoring and playing positions that Sporting need the most. I have heard this point, I understand this point and I will not dispute it.

But that too is true: sport is often a model for making the most of what it has, and that’s far from an accurate descriptor this year. And if two players can alter the course of the season so significantly, it’s an indictment of the surrounding pieces on the roster. Sporting have signed seven players this offseason – Ben Sweat, Uri Rosell, Logan Ndenbe, Kortne Ford, Robert Voloder, Marinos Tzionis and Nikola Vujnovic – and none have changed the game.

In a team that is the last in MLS to score, this group of newcomers combined for a goal. In a team that is second to last in goals against, five of those seven are in the defensive half of the field. An offseason cannot include this kind of balance sheet as a whole. When it does, that’s what you’re left with.

Two other additions – 22-year-old striker William Agada and 27-year-old midfielder Erik Thommy – are on the way this month. It seems increasingly that these arrivals will come too late, but the intention is to hold them back. Sporting will welcome its two designated players again next season, at the latest.

As a coach, Vermes has never missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons, and the list of those more upset than him with this year’s results is blank. Vermes has actually never finished in the bottom half of the league in consecutive seasons.

You see, these are the kinds of facts that introduce an element of absurdity into any conversation about potential change.

Turn this conversation here: How do you make sure 2022 is an anomaly? How do you ensure that this discussion is short-lived?

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Sam McDowell is a sports columnist for The Star. He has previously covered the Chiefs, Royals, Sporting Kansas City and the sports business.