With Sporting Kansas City out of the playoffs, how will manager Peter Vermes approach the last two games?
Always cautious of giving away anything to an opponent before a match, Vermes cagily responded, “I’m going to put a team out to go win the game, that’s what I’m going to do. People will be on the field for the last two game that deserve to be on the field.”
When asked if there was a strategy to what players he will use, perhaps playing more young players, Vermes still played it close to the vest regarding players but he did lay out expectations. “The strategy is a simple one. Yes, we are out of the playoffs but I will tell you; I’ve seen over the years, I’ve been doing this for a long time, I’ve played in the league and as a coach and I’ve seen teams that get in this position and they just mail it in. I can tell you that I am going to demand that when we step on the field there is pride, there is a respect for the game, there is a respect for the club, there is a respect for the fans to go out there and play like you would any other game.”
“The other part of it is, you are also going to do it with class,” Vermes emphasized. “It’s not going to be all of a sudden you are a poor loser or anything like that. That will not happen. I can’t tell you what the result is going to be, but my expectation is that whatever the lineup is, that is a group of people that I expect to go get a win in the game.”
Mood of the team
Even with a number of bad results throughout the year, Sporting KC was still capable of making the playoffs until the recent string of losses that started in Portland with a blown lead and 94th minute goal for the Timbers. With finally being officially eliminated in Minnesota, the pressure is off but how does that effect the mood of the team?
“Obviously, there is disappointment,” Vermes explained. “Nobody wants to not make the playoffs. The fact of the matter is we didn’t do enough to achieve that and that is reality. All of the other stuff doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that we have two games left. We have to prepare and go out to win those two games, that has to be what we are trying to do, that’s it. That is going to be the telltale sign of attitude and who is taking the steps to either be back here next year or be in the right frame of mind to be back here. All of that will continue to be accessed.”
With changes likely in the offseason, do players need to show they want to be here next year in the last two matches?
“Players are doing that all the time,” Vermes stated. “So, if a guy all of a sudden starts playing really, really well in the last two games of the season, I will tell that doesn’t really do all that much for them. I can tell you that if a guy in these last two games just mails it in, that will have a major impact on that player.”
The same Portland Timbers that started the latest losing streak for Sporting KC is the last home opponent for 2019. The Timbers have not played well lately either but are still fighting for a playoff spot. “I expect them to give everything they can,” Vermes predicted.
“They just beat us at their place, and they know that we were winning, and they came back and beat us. I am sure in their head they think that ‘all we have to do is score one goal and they will fall apart.’ I am sure that is what they think, I would be thinking the same way if I was on their side because we have done that. So, we are going to see in some of the guys where their mentality is.”
Anyone that watched Vermes in his playing days know that giving up or not giving his all in every game was not something that occurred, so it has to be particularly frustrating to watch as the coach. “I don’t disassociate myself from the responsibility aspect,” Vermes stated. “I’m willing to accept the responsibility of where I am at fault and I am going to do everything I can to rectify that. What I need to see is, I need to see people that feel they are also accountable and responsible. I need to see that as well. I then need to see the execution of it.”
“When I talk about bringing a player in, people would say to me that you have this player on the team and he is a strong personality. Yeah? Well there are a lot of coaches who don’t want to deal with those strong personalities. To me, strong personalities in moments when it is tough, they bend, they don’t break. People with weak personalities, they break. Right now, in this season, too many times we have broken. We just broke,” Vermes added.
A lot of attention has been paid to Sporting KC giving up goals late in games but Vermes does not see that as the only problem. “Roster consistency from last year to this year is 90 something percent so something has happened. There is a reason why, because they weren’t breaking last year but you also can’t just look at goals conceded,” Vermes explained. “Last year, in high quality expected chances created, we were third in the league. This year we are fifth so it’s not that big of difference. The difference is we have two players on our team that are in the bottom three of actually not executing on those expected chances. That tells you a lot. We’ve had incredibly high-quality chances but we’re just not putting them in the net.”
“I can say something positive; the coaching staff has done a great job of getting them to go from our goal all the way up to the other team’s goal. The problem is they can’t shoot, the coaching staff can’t shoot on goal.”
“The players have to do that and for some reason they are not able to stick the ball into the net. That is on the players and they are going to have to figure that out. Can we do stuff in training? We do stuff in training all the time. We work all kinds of stuff around the goal but when the time comes you have to put it in.”
“That is something there that has to be a big improvement in, I believe there has to be a big improvement with the current guys that we have and that will still be here next year. The ones that remain and us going out and finding someone that is of a high quality. We need somebody of a high quality because right now it’s been proven that we don’t have that.”
Is someone of high quality a target or is their multiple targets to be brought in for next year?
“There is a lot, it’s not one area. There has to be some other players brought in here,” Vermes replied.
A mental component
Sporting KC went from their best offensive year in 2018 to one of their worst in 2019 and the knack for giving up late, sometimes easy goals became prevalent at the same time. But does missing goals on one end and giving up goals on the other end have something in common?
“There is a mental component to it,” Vermes answered. “The worse thing for any player in any sport is that when things are not going well, you are not getting any chances. Meaning you are not getting opportunities anymore because the staff has decided you can’t do it and you are out. But that has not been the case with our guys. They’ve been given the chances and they haven’t been able to execute.”
“There are guys that are very experienced that have made a lot of mistakes this year. When you play games and you are not the number one choice and now the number one choice is out because of accumulation of cards or a red card or injury and you get your chance.”
“That is your opportunity. You have to figure out how to take advantage of this. When now all of a sudden you get your chance and you have been bitching and moaning that you want to play and you’re better than that guy and then you play and you and don’t play well. You now need to look at yourself.”
“We’ve had a lot of veteran guys that have not played very well and we’ve had a lot of guys that have gotten chances and they haven’t come in and taken the spot and put their stamp on the game. That is why we are not in the playoffs.”
Is age a factor?
Vermes has done a good job of keeping the core of veteran players together, signing four of them to extensions last year. While Vermes is not one to pay attention to social media or read criticisms from media or elsewhere, staff and others do tell them what they hear. One of the many questions and speculations about what went wrong in 2019 is did he keep them together too long and did that contribute to the struggles?
“I know there are a lot of people that think there are guys on the team that are too old,” Vermes responded. “They say they are too old. I would tell you that going into this I would have never said they are too old. I’m talking about guys that are 30, 31, 32, 33. Some of those guys are in the middle of the prime of their career. The prime time of your career used to be from 28 to 32. With the way advancements and all of the stuff how guys can take care of themselves and facilities like this you can stretch that if you do the right thing. If you have a bad injury that is a different story.”
“I don’t go in thinking the guys are too old. I will say that just because I think that doesn’t mean they don’t think that. The difference is if you have a bunch of guys that are 25 years old that was the meat of your team and now you are evaluating them, then okay maybe those guys had a bad year as part of their growth.”
“You know there is a lot of years left to play when they are younger. But when you are on the downside of your career and you have one of those kinds of year, now all of a sudden the microscope is obviously a lot more intensified, now that becomes a real topic. Not because of me or because of you but because of the way you perform.”
“It’s what you think in your head,” Vermes concluded.