On Saturday night, before going to interview Peter Vermes on Sunday morning, we put out a question to Twitter of what we should ask him. One question that came up in different forms was something to the effect of, ‘why won’t Sporting Kansas City spend money?’ It’s a common refrain from fans. They see big named players and huge transfer fees being paid in cities around the league and yearn for it in KC.
Sporting KC Do Spend
When The Blue Testament asked Peter Vermes about it, he gave a nuanced answer that lasted several minutes. One of the first things he said is something people often forget.
“I think what gets lost in the shuffle is that over the years, and it’s not just this year and last year, it’s over the years,” Vermes started. “What we have done, if you look across our team we have more players that are making the maximum or more salary, than any other team in the league right now.”
When you look at the 2018 MLS Players Union salary data, the most recent data we have available to us, Vermes is right. Sporting KC have nine players making over the 2018 salary budget maximum of $ 504,375. Those players are (in order of highest paid to lowest): Felipe Gutierrez, Johnny Russell, Krisztian Nemeth, Andreu Fontas, Roger Espinoza, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Yohan Croizet and Gerso Fernandes.
That’s nine players, the next closest is a four-way tie with eight players over the budget max. That includes the 2018 MLS Cup Champions, Atlanta United. The 2018 Western Conference Champions, the Portland Timbers. Along with the Seattle Sounders and the abysmal LA Galaxy. Mostly, it’s not bad company (success-wise, of course people love to hate those teams).
Vermes did qualify there is a reason Sporting KC have been able to have so many players over the max budget charge when last year’s salary budget was just over $4 million (the nine players in question made $8,725,859.78 last year).
“To be fair,” Vermes continued, “the reason why we can do that is because we’ve also I think made some really good deals with other teams where we continue to find ways to accumulate more money. TAM (Targeted Allocation Money), GAM (General Allocation Money), what have you, which allows us to have more of those players at that mid-level salary. And so for me, what we get a chance to do is we keep adding more quality players and more numbers of quality players maybe in comparison to other teams. Where they might spend a boatload on their three DPs. In doing that, they don’t have as much of the other monies to fill out the rest of their roster.”
When you look at the above quote, which to be fair to Vermes, came immediately after the first quote in the story, fans may dig and pry a little more. Of the other four teams that sit with eight players above the max budget charge, two have very expensive Designated Players. Atlanta United (via transfer fees) and the Galaxy (both in fees and salaries). Two teams with very different results. Atlanta of course won it all in just their second year while LA faltered on Decision Day and missed the playoffs despite their spending output. Vermes talked about those cities as well as New York.
“I would also say is we don’t spend nearly the kind of money that other teams do on our three DPs. That’s just a function of also of, hey we’re not Atlanta, ‘we have a stadium with 70,000 seats in it and we can sell it out.’ It’s a different city, a different market and we’re always going to be that way. We’re going to have to do things a little different and we’ve done that all along.”
Who Wants to Come to Kansas?
The big transfer fees are I think what most fans are really keying in on when they think the club isn’t spending. Clearly Sporting are spending but Vermes is famous for getting players on free transfers (see: Gutierrez, Felipe; Sanchez, Ilie) or cheap transfer fees (see: Russell, Johnny). Only recently have they spent a little bit on fees with transfers rumored to be around $1.5 million for both Gerso and Croizet.
When we asked Vermes about the large transfer fees versus where in the country SKC play, he gave an answer that we think is key to this entire situation.
“There are a lot of guys that, first off, don’t want to come to Kansas,” Vermes responded. “They don’t know where it is, what it is, they think people are riding horses. They really do. Now, no problem if I can get a player here on a recruiting trip, then it’s totally different. I can sell a player in two seconds. But, the other side of it is, most players when they want to come to MLS, they’re thinking New York, they’re thinking California, West Coast. That’s what they are thinking. For us that’s a challenge in itself. Right? We might find five guys that we really like that fit our team really well but if they don’t want to come, then they don’t want to come. So that’s another hurdle that we have to overcome.”
Two things jump out of that quote. While many of us love Kansas City and once people come here and see it’s not people “riding horses,” they might love it too, that’s a huge obstacle. The other thing is, Vermes is confident if he can show them the city and maybe more importantly, show them Pinnacle, he’ll get them to join the club. But that’s a very big if.
Is it Spending or is it Winning?
I’ll let Peter handle this one.
“I get perplexed a little bit when I hear that question [about not spending],” Vermes continued. “So if you went out and you take any club, Club A, if they go out and they spend a bunch of money but they are not competitive or [don’t] find any success, do you feel good about that as a fan that it’s how your team is because they spend a lot of money? Or at the end of the day, [do] you want to make sure you’re a competitive team and you’re always in the mix of things? I know the answer to that, I think it’s pretty simple. I just don’t understand the kind of thinking.
Eight straight MLS Cup Playoff appearances. One MLS Cup. Three US Open Cups. Not to mention some near misses. Sorry Peter, we’ll let you finish.
“Listen, I get the fans have their own opinion on things and I understand all that and I really do and I respect it. But at the same time, my mission was when I came in and I started coaching I remember the ownership group asking me what my objectives were? My number one objective is that we are competitive every year. That we have a chance to try to win something because we are actually competitive enough to do that. I think that we’ve been that way for a long time. That’s still the same goal now. We were this close (Vermes holds his fingers up close together) to being in the final. I think that’s pretty good.”
Is Anyone Else Coming?
While TBT didn’t ask Vermes again, since we just asked the other day, he dropped a line that will always be key to if Sporting add more players now or in the future.
“We are still in a place that our roster is never done. I always find it interesting that it’s never going to be done. We’re always going to constantly be looking to improve it. If a good opportunity comes and it’s a player we think fits us, wants to be here, obviously all the stars have to align. We’re always willing to make that move or that decision.”
We’ll have to wait and see if the “stars align” in the coming days, weeks or months.