Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes choked back tears while standing in the plaza in front of Sporting Park on Friday afternoon.
Vermes, who was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame before the U.S. national team’s World Cup qualifier match against Jamaica, had just one regret about a career in which he represented his country in 66 international matches and also won a MLS championship.
“I would love to have the opportunity to play in front of the fans who come to this stadium every weekend,” Vermes said of the three-year old, state-of-the-art Sporting Park. “I would give anything to play just game in that environment.”
Vermes, 46, was a part of a ground-breaking group of American players in the late 1980s and 1990s and played a critical role for the 1990 U.S. national team — the first to qualify for the World Cup in 40 years — as well as the 1994 World Cup team and 1988 Olympic team.
“Three things stand out about Peter … the trifecta of things he’s been honored for,” said Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer, who introduced Vermes at the ceremonies that also included the induction of forward Joe Max Moore.
“I can’t think of anyone in the sport, as long as I’ve been involved the last 30 years, who has been this accomplished in three different areas in the sport. As a player … 66 caps, 11 goals … as an administrator, he was on U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors for 20 years .. and now as a coach and administrator.”
Gulati was responsible for signing players to MLS contracts when the league began, and in 1999, signed Vermes to one of the most remarkable deals ever.
When the two sides were still separated by several thousands of dollars, Vermes suggested a bonus clause. To collect the bonus, he would have to play all 90 minutes in all 32 games that season.
“Peter played 32 times 90 that year, and the following year,” Gulati said. “I’m not sure anybody has ever done that other than a goalkeeper. He did it, and that second year was the best year in the history of Kansas City when they won MLS Cup, and Peter was Defender of the Year.”
Vermes, 46, became emotional when after acknowledging his parents, who escaped from Hungary in 1956; and thanking his coaches, teammates and Sporting Kansas City ownership for their roles in his career; he broke down in expressing his feelings for his wife, Susan, and children Nicole, 20, and Kyle. 19.
“I’ve had a very fortunate and privileged career as a player,” Vermes said. “Being a professional soccer is the best profession you can be in. Now I’m coaching … it’s a great place to be … and I appreciate the life I’ve had in this game.”
Perhaps the best-known moment of Vermes’ career came in the 1990 World Cup match against Italy when the upstart U.S. team lost 1-0 to the powerful host Azzurri. Vermes came excruciatingly close to tying the game when his kick snaked through the legs of Italy’s star goalkeeper Walter Zenga and rolled to the goal line, only to be cleared by a defender.
“You’ve seen this in a lot of movies … a guy at bat, bases loaded, full count, and he strikes out,” Vermes said. “Everybody talks about what could have been. Or he hits the home run and goes on to have this incredible life.
“Everyone asks, ‘If you would have scored that goal, where would you be today?’
“I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I’m right where I want to be now.”