In one of his first meetings with Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, club co-owner Neal Patterson acknowledged knowing very little about what it took to win soccer matches. And he didn’t particularly care how it was done either, he explained to Vermes, who was then serving as the team’s technical director.
But he issued one requirement: The public message of the team’s plans and the execution of those plans must fall in sync. In other words, if the team professed to be an attacking-minded team, it better not be losing matches 1-0.
“It’s such a simple statement, but it really (impacted) me,” Vermes said. “Whenever I’ve talked about our club, I’ve told you exactly the way we were going to do it on the field.
“I think that was incredible insight by (Patterson). I think it’s actually shaped the message of who we are over the years.”
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On Monday, a day after Patterson died of complications from a soft-tissue cancer, Vermes and other members of Sporting KC reflected on Patterson’s lasting impact with the franchise, along with what’s to come after his death.
Patterson and fellow Cerner co-founder Cliff Illig were the principal owners of Sporting Kansas City, with Greg Maday, Pat Curran and Robb Heineman owning smaller pieces of the club. How ownership will be divided moving forward is not yet clear, Sporting KC president Jake Reid said.
Patterson was also thought to be one of, if not the, most powerful voices in ownership meetings.
“That part will change, and you can’t replace that,” Reid said. “I think Cliff has some of that, as well. But I think for us, it’s just going to be an adjustment of understanding the dynamic of the group now that one of our elite leaders is no longer there. I think Cliff will obviously continue to be the voice from the group.”
The five man ownership group joined forces in 2006 to purchase the then Kansas City Wizards from Lamar Hunt, a move that prevented the team from leaving the city. Heineman has since served as the CEO for the group, Sporting Club.
“The good news with the group is they’ve been together for so long,” Reid said. “You’ve got a good structure with (chief operating officer) Alan Dietrich and myself on the business side and Peter on the team side. There’s stability there. But in the short term, you’ll probably see more on Cliff’s shoulders, for the time being anyway.”
Patterson didn’t work with Sporting KC on a day-to-day basis. But much of the club’s past and future vision was credited to him.
Reid and Vermes make presentations to the ownership group at the conclusion of every season, which are focused on the following year. Reid described going into those meetings “with Plan A and coming out with Plan Z” after receiving input from Patterson.
Patterson’s influence on long-term strategy was immense. He was a strong proponent of Vermes’ plans to build Sporting KC through the youth academy, and the owners responded with significant funds for the academy. He also made it clear he expected a return on such investments.
“His presence in meetings was more than felt and put everybody on high alert,” Vermes said. “He demanded high quality from everyone. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s made this organization a high-performance organization — just because of his demand to be the best.
“I think all of us are very ambitious people, and we want to continue to make that happen, and I think we will. But I think having someone like that around on a regular basis and now not having that person around is obviously going to be felt.”