Peter Vermes has long since proven that he’s one of America’s best soccer coaches. The Delran product has built a powerhouse at Sporting Kansas City, which will host the Union at 3 p.m. Sunday (PHL17), and this year’s squad is another title contender.
But Vermes hasn’t succeeded just with coaching chops. No one in MLS does a better job of turning unheralded foreign signings into big-time contributors.
Midfielder Ilie Sánchez was a forgotten product of Barcelona’s academy when Vermes signed him in 2017. He has averaged 69 passes per game at 85 percent accuracy over the last two seasons. Winger Johnny Russell arrived last year, got 10 goals and 10 assists, and returned to Scotland’s national team for the first time since 2014.
Kansas City has neither the financial heft nor the municipal prestige of Los Angeles, New York, or Seattle, but Vermes keeps beating them all. In the last eight years, he has finished atop the Western Conference three times, and won three U.S. Open Cups and one MLS Cup.
“It gets more and more difficult every year, because from a spending perspective, the gap keeps widening,” Vermes said. “The biggest transfer [fee] I have on my team at the moment is $1 million, and that’s not the norm in this league anymore."
Sporting kicked off the year with a stunning 5-0 aggregate blowout of Mexican club Toluca in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16. During the 2-0 win in Mexico, Toluca fans gave the traditional “Olé!” salute to the visitors as they passed the ball around the field.
Since then, Sporting has lost two straight: its regular-season opener at LAFC and a Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Panama’s Independiente. In addition to those defeats, Vermes’ team has endured a lot of travel.
But he isn’t complaining. He sees it as a lesson that all of MLS needs to learn.
“This is what the rest of the world does,” he said. “The congestion of fixtures is something that we have to become more mature at, because it’s where our league is moving to. We’re not getting less games in our league; we’re getting more. So we all have to get better at managing it. … Our rosters have got to continue to get deeper, so that we can be competitive in all those areas.”
Though Vermes doesn’t get home too often, he isn’t surprised that the Philadelphia region continues to churn out soccer talent — and that the Union have capitalized on it.