Over the course of the next several weeks, the Sporting Kansas City roster will likely encounter a series of adjustments.
But the man in charge will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future.
Sporting Kansas City and coach Peter Vermes agreed to a contract extension through the 2019 season, the two parties announced Tuesday. The extension will also apply to Vermes’ role as technical director with Sporting KC, allowing him continued control over the personnel and roster decisions.
Vermes’ previous contract with the club was set to expire after the 2017 season. Its replacement comes after team ownership acknowledged foreign and domestic inquiries to lure him out of Kansas City.
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“At the end of the day, I’m exactly where I want to be,” Vermes said. “So the other things don’t really matter.”
The ownership group, represented by Mike Illig, the son of owner Cliff Illig, first approached Vermes in May about lengthening his stay in Kansas City. But they later tabled those discussions to prevent a distraction during Sporting Kansas City’s playoff push.
The team concluded 2016 with a club-record sixth consecutive postseason appearance, though it failed to win a playoff game for the third straight year. Vermes said Tuesday the staff is scouring the market for avenues toward improving the roster.
Sporting KC is 103-82-61 in MLS play under Vermes.
“The great thing about our staff is they’re never satisfied,” said Vermes, with assistants Kerry Zavagnin and Zoran Savic in attendance for the news conference Tuesday morning. “My objective with the staff is that it doesn’t matter if we would’ve won every competition — we just have to do things better than we did the year before.”
A former player for the franchise under the Kansas City Wizards name, Vermes guided Sporting KC to the 2013 MLS Cup championship and two U.S. Open Cup titles, in 2012 and 2015.
Vermes, who turned 50 earlier this month, took over as the technical director of the Wizards before the 2007 season and assumed the head coaching role in late 2009. After failing to make the postseason in his first full year on the job, Sporting KC enacted its rebrand and moved into Children’s Mercy Park. It has made the MLS playoffs in every year since.
“Without Peter, we don’t think any of this works the way we want it to work,” Mike Illig said. “The way we have defined and challenged him in his role over the last decade, he’s responded and surprised our expectations in that regard.”
That prompted outside interest in Vermes last offseason, when a source told The Star that two overseas clubs and one European country’s national team used agents to gauge his interest in leaving Kansas City.
Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman, who was present for the news conference Tuesday but did not take part in the question-and-answer portion, acknowledged last November that he had received “tons of inquires around Peter,” both domestically and internationally. Heineman also acknowledged “an undercurrent about whether Peter could go to the (United States) national team some day.”
Vermes has an ongoing relationship with high-ranking members inside the U.S. Soccer office. The national team recently fired head coach Jürgen Klinsmann and hired former LA Galaxy boss Bruce Arena for the second time, though many see that as a short-term band-aid for a team in the middle of World Cup qualifying. After Arena’s departure from MLS, Vermes became the longest-tenured active head coach in the league.
Vermes was a logical — albeit unnamed — fit for the ensuing opening in LA. He has prior working relationships with LA ownership and members of the front office, including team president Chris Klein, a former Wizards teammate.
“We were aware of what else is going on out there in the soccer community,” Sporting KC president Jake Reid said. “But I think for us, (this) was something we were very focused on from the start of the season and really dove in as soon as the season ended.”
The extension in Kansas City further cements Vermes’ long-term outlook with Sporting KC, which has drastically changed during his tenure. Sporting KC has significantly increased the funds put toward its academy programs, a project Vermes considers essential to the club remaining competitive over the long haul.
Last summer, Sporting KC added the Swope Park Rangers, an affiliate that plays in the United Soccer League with the purpose of bridging the gap between the academies and the senior team.
“The piece I’m excited about now is that we have (spent time) progressing to something, and (once) you get there, everybody has an expectation about Sporting Kansas City now,” Vermes said. “The question is: How do you now take it to that next level?”