KANSAS CITY, Mo. - I know that many of you already know a thing or two about Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes. For some of you, one of those things might be that he’s a native of Willingboro, N.J., and still has the accent to prove it.
This week, the soccer world has come to his new home. With the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention in Kansas City, the American soccer world has set up shop right on his doorstep.
Vermes has come to know Kansas City well. He played the last three of his seven seasons in MLS there, but the market was very different then. Most of his home games were played in cavernous Arrowhead Stadium, in front of crowds a fraction of the size of those that now pack Livestrong Sporting Park during the summer.
So he knows just how amazing it is that Sporting became such a success not just in its home market, but across MLS.
I caught up with Vermes for a few minutes Friday night to chat about what it’s been like to have a front-row seat to the unfolding of that story.
What’s it like to have so much of American soccer here in Kansas City?
This is now the second time that we’ve had it in Kansas City in a short period. It’s different now that we have our own stadium, and things are moving along for our organization. I feel that we’re in a good spot and we have a long way to go, but we definitely have moved from when our owners bought the team six years ago.
So it’s an exciting time for us, and I think Kansas City has embraced the game much more than it did six years ago. From that perspective, it’s exciting.
You are going to have Philadelphia native Bobby Convey on your team this year. Talk about him and what he brings to Sporting Kansas City.
Bobby has got a lot of experience, not only in this league but also in England. He played on the national team for a number of years and was in a World Cup. So he’s an extremely experienced player, but still young - 28 years old.
We feel we’ve acquired a guy who not only has a ton of experience, but has a set of qualities that fits into the way we play. He’s more like a left-wing, left-midfield type player, although he can play left back.
Although he did a great job while he was in San Jose at that position, I think we’ll use him more as an attacker. He’s an exciting guy, an exciting player, and I think his mentality is going to be good for our team.
I know that mentality. I played in Philly for a number of years with the United German-Hungarians. Just knowing that mentality there, I think it’s good, and I think it’s good to bring it into our team here.
You had such a strong finish last year with that run to the Eastern Conference final. How do you build on it this year?
I think number one, we’ve got to be more consistent when it comes to the start of the year. There’s no doubt that being on the road [for the first 10 games of the season] was one factor, but you try and stay away from excuses over the course of a season.
The great thing is we’re coming back with our core group of guys, which we haven’t done yet since I’ve been coaching here. We’ve finally got the team the way we want it to be, and we’re starting to play with the style that we want to.
So I think it’s really just building off of that and moving forward. Consistency is going to be a big thing for us this year. We did finish strong, but making it consistent throughout the entire course of the year. And obviously trying to get back to the playoffs and going farther than we did last year.
One person in that core group is midfielder C.J. Sapong, who was the rookie of the year last season and prior to that played for Reading United in the PDL. Where does he go from here?
I’m a big fan of C.J. We had seen him quite a bit over the years. I think the biggest thing that excited us about him was that each time we saw him, he progressed a little bit more. Obviously that was before he came to us.
He’s an extremely coachable kid with a great work ethic, and I know he has aspirations to be the best player that he can be. He has all the right qualities to do it. A
lot of times, it’s hard with young guys like that. They think they’ve arrived, that they don’t need to get all the coaching. But he’s just the opposite. He’s extremely devoted to the team, and all of those qualities allow him to have a very high ceiling with this team.
He is in the U.S. national team camp at the moment, which is a tremendous opportunity for him after his first year. The big thing going into his second year is that a lot of people talk about sophomore slumps and all those other things.
Do you ever walk into Livestrong Sporting Park and pinch yourself and say it can’t really be there?
Every time. And that’s not a line. I would have given anything as a player to play in a stadium like this in the league. Don’t get me wrong - your stadium in Philadelphia, to have the ability to play in those stadiums as a player now in the United States is a dream.
I’m just very fortunate to be able to coach now in those environments. I think probably the biggest thing is that the stadium’s great and our ownership is excellent. They made the commitment to building it.
But I think what it has done in terms of how our team plays now, you combine all those things together, and what’s really happened is that we went from having a fan base to having a cult following.
I think the game is growing quickly now because of that stadium and the environment in which people get to watch soccer. It makes it a lot easier to bring players in here, that’s for sure.
That stadium is likely one of the reasons why the semifinals and championship game of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament will be played here this year. What would it mean to have someone on the Olympic team from Sporting?
I’ve always been a big promoter of guys being able to play at the international level. I think it helps them tremendously when they come back to their clubs. It also gives them exposure that they’ve never had before, and seeing what the next level of play is.
All of those things can benefit them not only individually as players, but also with their club teams as well.