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Sporting KC’s Vermes on Players Leaving, New Signings, Pulido, Busio, Zusi, Espinoza and More

He also talks tactics, subs, the growth of MLS and the elimination of Homegrown territories.

MLS: Playoffs- Semifinals-Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, Peter Vermes gave his final press conference of the 2021 season for Sporting Kansas City. Likely, the team will put it out for your viewing at some point, but until then we thought you may want to know some of the stuff that was talked about. Enough from me, let’s get to Head Coach and Sporting Director, Peter Vermes.

[Two notes about the quotes below, sometimes PV starts a sentence, breaks it off and goes a different way. If it was just filler words that don’t add, I took them out when I could. Second, it was a 30 minute press conference, I didn’t write down every word, I’d be here all day.]

PV on all those Roster Moves from Tuesday

“For the majority of the situations, and I’m not going to speak individually on each guy, what I will say is, it usually comes down to one of two or three things,” began Vermes. “It’s either I don’t think the player isn’t going to get the playing time here. It doesn’t mean they are a bad player, it just means that I don’t want to hold them up and they possibly go some place else and get playing time.”

“The second would be, sometimes, I just feel like, maybe we need a change or I want more in the position.”

“The other is, sometimes unfortunately, but it’s the case in every sport in this country that has a salary cap, sometimes you are just in constraints based on the salary cap and the financial impact that a player’s contract or salary has on the salary cap. And if you look the last three years, we’re stagnant based on the negotiation that happened with COVID. I understand at the time when we signed players we didn’t know that was going to be the case and you’ll see everywhere around the league in some way, shape or form is dealing with that. The financial is a big reason why decisions are made.”

All those bolded words are me. So without tackling players specifically he wants guys to have a chance to play if he doesn’t have room for them, maybe a change is just needed (SKC didn’t win MLS Cup after all) or finally, there is only so much money to go around. The reference to “stagnant” comment, it’s clearly in reference to the renegotiated Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) freezing much of the money where it typically climbs each year. So if you sign a guy, and his salary is set to bump by five or 10 percent each year, but the salary ‘cap’ is hard, someone has to go to make that room.

When the KC Star’s Shaun Goodwin pressed Vermes on Ilie Sanchez’s salary being $1 million a year and if that had anything to do with that, Vermes responded, “I think it’s pretty easy to figure that out.” As we postulated earlier in the week, that’s a lot of money for a guy who might not be a starter.

PV on Bringing in New Guys

“I think you’d be a betting man if you said we were looking for a left back,” began Vermes. “We don’t have anyone [in that position] right now. That’s a position we are looking for.”

“We are looking for players always in every position. I say it all the time. I know you think that’s a tag line or easy for me, but we’re looking for players in all positions to improve our team. The reason why we have to do that is, surprises happen every year, one.”

“Two is, we want to continue to push the envelop on positions. If we have three guys at a position. If you are the one, I want the two to push the number one to try and be the number one. And number three to be number two or number one. You want those guys to keep pushing up the ladder. That competition within the team makes the team better.”

“The other thing is there is always surprises also with different things that occur with players during the course of the year. Especially early on. Somebody gets injured and now you have to be ready to add another player. It’s good to already have been looking at that position and possibly working towards trying to negotiate an opportunity. The other is that, you really want a player in a position that you think you might be able to get and financially it’s just not going to work. So now you sort of move your bullseye to some other position that you’ve already been working on and you are not starting from ground zero.”

Vermes talked about this in more detail in an interview in September which is worth a read. He talked about having “shadow teams” at all the different roster designations in MLS as well as for the second team.

However, he didn’t stop there.

“We’re negotiating with players. Correct. The process never changes. It’s the same as always. There’s a negotiation, it’s back and forth. It’s multiple players. We’ve identified players. We’re negotiating but nothing is where it needs to be yet.”

This is pretty standard from Vermes. He won’t talk specifics until it’s done. You’ll have to rely on our rumors page when those start rolling in the coming days and weeks.

What does an Ideal Vermes left back look like?

“They have to be a good defender,” stated Vermes. “They have to be tactically smart to play in a line of four or five. They have to be a good individual defender. They have to have leather lungs. They have to go box-to-box from a conditioning perspective. Be a good passer out of the back. Be able to be in the build up of the game. Have to have good decisions and good execution in the final third.”

A line of four or five? I think that answer was so early in a question, no one got a chance to remember to follow up. Is PV considering a back five? Or is this just a tactical wrinkle when the defensive midfielder drops in between the center backs?

Also, this left back almost surely doesn’t exist for a wage that Sporting can afford. But he knows what he wants.

PV on Negotiating with Zusi and Espinoza

First he was asked, “At this stage in their careers, how much can they be a help at this stage of their career?”

Vermes responded, “Immense. Immense. Zeus I think had a great year on the field. He played many more games than I would have expected or wanted him to. That was due to injury, not him but others that would have played in that place as well [read: Jaylin Lindsey]. So he played very well.”

“And then Roger, I thought actually the same. When he played, he was very good for us. He brings the same energy. I think the difference is for Roger the position has a higher demand physically so at times I had to be more selective with him. The fact that we had a couple players in that position that were out for different things put a little bit more of a strain or load on there.”

“In every team you need leadership and mentors, both of those guys, that part of it is priceless. So of course those guys continue to provide something, but obviously it also has it’s (Vermes trails off). It’s not like they are going to come in and they want these salaries that we just can’t handle either. That’s why it’s got to be a mutual agreement between both to understand what their participation will be and also what the financial part will be from us to them. That’s why we are still negotiating. We would like both guys back for those reasons I just mentioned.”

I’m reading this all as, if the price is right and Espinoza and Zusi understand they won’t play as much, Vermes wants them back. I can get on board with that.

What about the roster construction?

Vermes was asked about having lots of Homegrown players in 2021 but then deciding to quickly part ways with some of them and if he would be building the roster differently.

“When you’re on the roster and I get it, you can designate anything you want to, you can say the guys a Homegrown, he’s a cap guy, he’s a DP, he’s a TAM guy. For me, in the end, they’re on the roster. Everybody has the same opportunity day in and day out in training and when they get a chance to play to execute. All of those things are going to be evaluated.”

“My business is different. For maybe a lot of [the media], the way it works for you, if you work in a corporation, you do your job over the course of the year and at the end of the year you have a review. I can’t wait until the end of the year to have a conversation with somebody. If something is not going well, I’m talking to them right away. Whether that be a player or a staff member.”

“On the player side it’s a constantly evaluation, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. It has to do [with] how they’re progressing. How they deal with the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys of their contribution, their form, their development. All those things come into play. You’re constantly having those conversations. Talking about the poor performances, the good performances, trying to build on certain things. You are just doing that on a regular basis.”

“All the players on the roster are under the same microscope. It doesn’t change just because, ‘hey, that guys a Homegrown.’ If you are not progressing, if you are not contributing, you leave yourself open to not [being] here. That’s where all those players are and that’s where they sit. Depth is only good if you are providing and producing. Just having numbers doesn’t mean you have depth. You have to have people that can actually produce in that position or in that game you are playing. That’s how you continue to stay and remain and it all comes down to, and it never changes, to winning.”

PV on Pulido’s Injury

You know a presser can’t go by without talking about lack of rotation or that Pulido is always hurt.

“When I talk about Alan specifically, the sad thing is, his injury occurred when he was with the [Mexican] National Team all the way back in March/April,” started Vermes. “It was something he was fighting through the whole time.”

“What he dealt with and what he played through, I mean I give the guy unbelievable credit. The amount of inflammation that was growing after a game or training on certain days and the amount of fluid that needed to be drained out of his knee. I give him a lot of credit. He is definitely a tough guy. He is definitely a guy that doesn’t want to be out and fights through it. But at the end, he just wasn’t right, for I’d say, 3/4 of the year.”

Vermes goes on to talk about it happening with the National Team and it being out of his control. His injury in the first season was a “fluke” and did happen with SKC. He also spoke on why he can’t stop players from leaving for National Team duty (fines, inability to play them during the window they don’t join their national team on, etc.) and he did say he saw Pulido pick up his injury in a video of a practice session, so he knows just when it initially happened.

Considering he was hurt at the beginning of the year, it’s impressive how well he still played for most of the year when he was in there. Here is to hoping either Mexico stops calling him up and hurting him, or that he just chooses to focus on club over country since, at some point, your body can only take so much in a year. Espinoza did this a few years ago and probably extended his playing career. Strikers tend to have an earlier peak, so to extend that, maybe Alan stays with SKC and year three is just amazing.

PV on Subs and Squad Rotation

“It’s easy to go back in hindsight, in maybe the last three games, last four, last five games, maybe I play a bunch of different guys,” said Vermes. “When you are in the fight. When you are trying to get first place and do certain things, it’s the competitiveness in all of us. I can tell you this, the guys they are talking about, they want to play. Even in the Austin game when I took Johnny off the field, Johnny wanted to stay on the field and wanted to stay out there. Obviously that’s my job and I’ve got to manage that kind of stuff.”

“I will tell you I think we have a great staff in regards to the medical and more importantly the performance side and I think they do an excellent job bringing the team to a good place over the course of the season physically. It’s just that sometimes it doesn’t go your way and I would say last year is different than this year because we are a different team with different players.”

“In the last game of the season, every guy was ready to go except Alan was not 100 percent.”

I don’t this answer will be satisfying to most fans or pundits that have been critical of his sub usage. Some may say, ‘in hindsight it’s obvious he should have rotated down the stretch.’ But it wasn’t hindsight, we were saying it before games. Multiple times. But wait, there is more.

PV on Evolving, Evaluating, Tactics, Lineups and Subs

One of the media members asked, essentially, if he just sticks to what works in the offseason or if they are looking to change in between seasons, to which Vermes responded that “we actually do it after each game.” He continued, citing an example of tweaking the formation or how you use players, like tucking the wingers inside. “There are different things you would tweak within your own system.”

“The cycle goes like this. You train, you put in your game plan. You play the game. You assess the outcome. Obviously the positives and the negatives.”

“And then at the end of the season... you are doing a bit overview evaluation of the team, the decisions that we make, the substitutions, all of those types of things. And then game plans. Do you choose to high press a team? Have a middle block, a low block?”

“There has never been a year where I’ve ever sat back and thought, ‘everything is great,’ I constantly tweak everything else that goes with it and try to improve it... That’s probably one of the reasons why I’ve lasted so long in the job at this club. Nothing is ever accomplished. I don’t believe it. I think you can always improve on what you do.”

“We’re constantly evaluating. You have to have self awareness, you have to have self reflection and you have to have self correction. We do that daily and we do that over the course of the whole entire season. We do the same thing with our preseason every year. How do we improve it? What can we do? Is it the same place? Is it more games or less games? On and on and on.”

PV on selling Busio when they did

He repeated an answer that anyone coming to this site is probably familiar with. If they didn’t sell him when they did, then he could have signed a pre-contract and left for free next summer. One new thing came out though and that was, “We tried to re-sign him, but he didn’t want to,” said Vermes. “He wanted to take this opportunity to go overseas.”

Gianluca Busio would have qualified for the U-22 initiative if they wanted to give him a significant raise. PV also repeated the line that, as the coach, he didn’t want to lose him, but as the Sporting Director he has to do what’s right for the team, which is to get something (a huge return in this case) to help the team in the future.

Speaking of that Busio Money...

“Huge credit to our ownership group,” started Vermes when asked where that transfer money was going. “All that money stays with the team side and that’s available for different aspects of the technical side. It’s not being taken out as profit or anything like that. It’s all remaining with the team on the technical side for different things. And yes, players are for sure top priority for that money.”

Vermes on the Growth of MLS, it’s Challenges and What’s Next

“Eventually there is going to be in the nature of 32 teams in this league,” said Vermes. “What’s really difficult about that is two things, one is on an international scouting level, we are all looking at a lot of the same players. Who gets the player? Who gets the deal done? There are a bunch of different player mechanisms we have to deal with. Which are just a part of the overall guidelines in our league.”

On the 32 teams line, that is interesting because the league has only announced plans for 30 teams, with only 29 confirmed after Sacramento fell out. That’s down from the 40 teams Vermes previously predicted. Let me stop interrupting Peter...

“The other is, as our league has grown, the American player has become more and more valuable over time. It’s the pool of American players that we have to pick from for Major League Soccer. It’s not as big for two reasons. More options and more teams.”

PV on Homegrown Territories

“The continued progress and investment in the pro player pathway is incredibly important,” started Vermes. “Even in that area, certain things have to change. One of the big things for me is, we are still in the world of protected [Homegrown] territories. I’m a believer that it should be completely open.”

“If I find a player in New Jersey, and I can convince him to come here and be part of our pro player pathway, I think we should have the ability to do that. If I find a kid in LA, I should have the ability to go and recruit that kid, based on what we do as an organization from a development perspective and the environment and all these other things. I think that’s where we need to make a big improvement. Not everybody is in the same fertile environment and territory as others are in. We need access to some of those fertile areas.”

“Does Peter get any time to relax?”


“I’ll try to go away somewhere, but even when I’m there I’m usually on the phone trying to finalize deals or help get deals done,” said Vermes. “This profession doesn’t really provide a lot of downtime. It just doesn’t exist. You’re just thinking about the team, the roster, the situation. You’ve got individual player issues. You are always trying to fix something. It’s just a part of the profession.”

Quick Hits

  • When talking about letting players who want to leave, actually leave, he told a story about Teal Bunbury. Basically, Teal loved KC but wasn’t playing as much and he said if a chance to play presents itself elsewhere, he’d like that, and Vermes accommodated him.
  • When Thad Bell asked about the upcoming MLS Division Three and if loans and mechanisms would be different, Vermes responded, “I wish I could [tell you], but I really can’t. There are so many things that are still being discussed. It would just be premature because those decisions haven’t been made.”

So that’s it. The 2021 season and playoffs (at least for Sporting KC) are over. December will likely be filled with rumors, signings and all kinds of weird MLS offseason stuff (we’ll lay out the schedule in the coming days). And then it’s right back to soccer with preseason likely to kick off before January is over. Then the season kicks off at the end of February against Atlanta United.