At a ranch located one hour south of Kansas City, Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes dined with club ownership last winter. Over a steak dinner, he presented his five-year forecast, broaching on senior team projections, the development of academy prospects and international player acquisitions.
At some point, Sporting Club co-owner Mike Illig interjected.
“What do you think about re-upping your deal?” Illig asked, later explaining, “We are discussing the future of our club, and for us as owners, we don’t see a future without Peter as the CEO of the technical (component).”
That began the framework of a contract extension that was finalized Monday, a deal that will keep Vermes in dual roles as Sporting Kansas City's coach and technical director through 2023, both parties told The Star. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The contract arrives amidst the undertone of the United States men's national team coaching and general manager vacancies. Vermes told The Star on Monday that he had preliminary conversations with U.S. Soccer personnel earlier this year regarding both jobs.
'It wasn't an interview. They called for permission to speak to me awhile back, and we talked, but that's it," Vermes said.
Sporting Club ownership granted permission. There are no more talks currently scheduled, Vermes said. But the timing of his extension with Sporting KC isn’t merely coincidental, with team president Jake Reid acknowledging the possibility of Vermes one day making a leap to the national team.
Asked if the new deal should be perceived as a preference to remain in Kansas City if that opportunity should arise, Vermes replied, “I don’t want to deal in speculation. But what I would say is that after 12 1/2 years here, in some regards I’ve put my life’s work into this place. The reason why the ownership has made a commitment and why I’ve made a commitment to them is that while we have had a lot of success over the years, we still have a lot we want to get done. We’re all committed to that, and that includes myself.
“This is where my heart is.”
In conversations with The Star, multiple acquaintances close to Vermes continue to wonder if he would accept a potential offer from the national team, given that it would require him to vacate full authority over the technical side of Sporting KC.
It’s not yet clear if U.S. Soccer is willing to permit a coach such control, a determination that is also unlikely to be made until after the federation completes its bid for the 2026 World Cup. Sporting KC, on the other hand, is more than willing to provide Vermes the reins.
“We want him here, not anywhere else,” Reid said. “The U.S. is the one that has been out there obviously. I think Peter said it well: He has a huge commitment to be here and wants to be here, and obviously we share that same belief.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say it had nothing to do with (the extension). We obviously want him here for the long term. We believe in what he has done and what he’s yet to do.”
Vermes, 51, has overseen the Kansas City project since 2006, hired as technical director of a franchise for which he played. He added the coaching component in August 2009, the only coach hired by Sporting Club since it seized control late in 2006. No MLS coach has been with his team longer.
In his time occupying both positions, Sporting KC has won four trophies — the MLS Cup in 2013 and U.S. Open Cup championships in 2012, 2015 and 2017 — and reached the postseason in each of the past seven seasons. He is the winningest coach in club history, with a 121-93-76 mark in MLS regular season play and 150-108-86 across all competitions.
The history is in his corner.
The outlook for the future is what continues to sell ownership. Illig refers to Vermes as the CEO of the “Sporting Player Enterprise,” an intended method of flattery for a man trusted to oversee every level within the soccer venture. It was his blueprint that persuaded ownership to invest approximately $20 million into its academy; the same plan sparked the launch of a minor-league USL affiliate, the Swope Park Rangers, three years ago.
“I think the thing that meshes with us is we try to be entrepreneurial, and he has incredible vision,” Illig told The Star. “He knows where the league is going and where we need to be compared to that. He sees us differently than anyone else in the league sees us.
“Obviously when you look at the New Yorks, Toronto, Seattle, L.A., our approach around players and identifying talent and developing talent is crucial to our success. Peter is the visionary behind that project.”
The small-market stature has always been part of the draw for Vermes, who relishes the opportunity to claw, scrap, do whatever he can to gain an edge. His teams in Kansas City have long taken on that personality.
The academy is his primary solution, and he has established a goal to one day field a starting lineup consisting of 11 homegrown players. The only current homegrown regular in the lineup is winger Daniel Salloi. But it’s an undertaking Vermes said he hopes to see through, and Monday’s contract extension pulls him five years nearer.
“We are going to play a team (Atlanta) on Wednesday that spent $15 million on a transfer for one player — that’s not our world,” Vermes said, later adding, “At the same time, we have to find ways to compete with teams like that. That’s why these other things in our project, that’s why they’re exciting to me. Because what we’re trying to figure out is this: How do we deal with Goliath? How do we do that? The challenge is fun and intriguing.”
Sporting KC completed the weekend in first place in the Western Conference, with key offseason acquisitions such as Johnny Russell and Felipe Gutierrez blending with a host of accomplished veterans.
As Vermes guided the flight in its takeoff, Illig relaxed the talks of a contract extension. He recently returned them to the conversation last month. The details were settled rather quickly.
“I don’t know of a better situation when you’re doing this job, (particularly) the support from ownership and their understanding that this is a long-term play,” Vermes said. “The easiest progression to see is just the facilities themselves — Swope Soccer Village, the second phase of Swope and now (Pinnacle).
“When you just see that progression and that we’re consistently trying to be better versions of ourselves in all that we do, it’s the environment I wanna be in.”