Peter Vermes was on Extra Time Monday and he talked about a wide range of topics concerning Sporting Kansas City and Major League Soccer. It’s definitely worth a listen (full video at the bottom of the story).
One story that jumped out was when Peter was asked who his favorite draft pick was of all-time is. He obviously has a lot of good players to choose from. He’s drafted Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Chance Myers, Dom Dwyer, CJ Sapong, Teal Bunbury and more. But his favorite... Roger Espinoza.
Vermes goes on to tell the story of drafting Roger, which was his second draft way back in 2008 when he was the Technical Director, but not yet the coach.
“I’m being totally frank with you,” Vermes started. “I learned on the job. I go to the Final Four and I’m trying to get up to speed with all the players. I was lucky because I was with the [U-20s], I knew that age group really well. I knew a lot of the college players. I had a really good understanding. That was two years before [with the United States U20s].”
Early in the interview, Vermes tells some stories about coaching with the U20s and coaching Charlie Davies, one of the hosts of Extra Time. But back to Roger.
“I see Roger Espinoza playing with Ohio State,” continued Vermes. “30 minutes into the game, I get up out of my seat, I walk up to the top and I get on my cell phone. I call Todd Durbin (who is currently the Executive Vice President of Competition and Player Relations for MLS). ‘Todd, I want to sign this guy to a Generation Adidas contact.’ He goes, ‘you can’t just do that.’ I had no idea. I’m like, ‘why not?’”
“Long story short, he says look, ‘the way it works is, if we are going to do that as a league, I’ll take the name I’m gonna float it around to all the other coaches in the league and if I get good feedback I’ll consider it.’ I go, ‘what do you mean you are gonna tell the other guys!?’”
Ultimately, PV agreed to have the name floated around. The Final Four started on a Friday and then the final game was on Sunday and Ohio State were still competing. They would go on to lose in the finals to Ike Opara’s Wake Forest squad.
“I go to Sunday,” said Vermes. “I don’t hear back from Todd. I go watch the next game. I watch again. 15 minutes into the game, Roger is killing it. I leave my seat I go back up I go, ‘Todd, we sign this guy?’ He goes, ‘I floated his name around and I didn’t get any good feedback.’ You gotta be kidding me!”
Poor Roger. Underappreciated then and honestly, still probably under appreciated now.
“I’m in agressive pressing mode, I’m high up the field,” exasperated Vermes. “‘Why can’t we just sign him?’ Todd says, ‘You have to guarantee you are gonna pick the guy.’ ‘I’ll send you an email right now, I traded for another first round draft pick, I’ll take him with one of my two first round draft picks. If he’s available, I have a guy I’m gonna select first, if he’s available at my second first round draft pick, I’ll select him.’ They worked it out, they got him into the league.”
Sporting KC The Kansas City Wizards had two first round picks because they traded defender Nick Garcia to the San Jose Earthquakes for what ended up being the first overall pick. The club went on to pick right back Chance Myers in that slot.
“I think I got Roger at like 9th or 11th or I can’t remember off the top of my head (it was the 11th pick), something in that range,” stated Vermes. “I could not believe he dropped all the way down there and nobody selected him. He is a monster. He’s still a monster today. He’s unbelievable that guy.”
It’s hard to disagree with Peter’s assessment. Co-host Andrew Weibe goes on to say that Espinoza is his favorite MLS player of all-time. High praise from the Kansas native. Vermes also slipped in a little bit about Ike Opara.
“I was trying to get Ike Opara [in the 2010 draft], Vermes began. “I had Ike slotted, I was taking Ike Opara. I remember being in the room and I was trying to do a deal with New York Red Bulls. Ike was coming out and I wanted Ike so bad. I just couldn’t get up one more slot to get there.”
In that draft, SKC were picking fourth while the New York Red Bulls were picking second. NYRB went on to select Tony Tchani, who has a solid MLS career. Opara would go third to the San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting picked fourth taking forward Teal Bunbury.
Vermes would get the last laugh though (or did Minnesota United?). PV ultimately traded a 2013 second round pick for the oft-injured Opara. It took a while, but he has become a true star in the league. Of course, he was famously traded ahead of the 2019 season.
The rest of the interview is surely worth a listen too. Vermes was asked who would benefit most from Felipe Gutierrez’s season ending knee injury and he said Gianluca Busio, who was going to play regardless, but the surprise answer: Cameron Duke. “[Duke’s] got something that’s started to blossom in a really short period of time,” said Vermes. “He’ll be an interesting player.”
PV also talks about his time under the late Sigi Schmid as US U20s coach, his thoughts on the transfer market in a post COVID-19 world, the Black Players Coalition and a whole lot more. The full interview is below.