Sporting KC

The chances and viability of Peter Vermes coaching the U.S. men’s national team

Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes.
Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes. KC Star file photo.

The TV in Peter Vermes’ office was locked onto the World Cup for a month, and when his day job running Sporting Kansas City forced him to miss a match, he would record it, then watch it later. The tournament commanded his constant attention, even as the effects of a U.S. men’s national team disappointment engulfed the domestic soccer culture.

But the World Cup’s conclusion last week shifts the future of U.S. Soccer back to the foreground.

And it could soon place Vermes in the foreground, too.

With its glaring absence from the 2018 World Cup officially an item of history, U.S. Soccer is expected to accelerate its search for a new men’s national team coach. Vermes previously met with a high-ranking official from the federation earlier this year, preliminary discussions centralized on both the general manager and coaching vacancies, he told The Star. U.S. Soccer since hired Philadelphia Union sporting director Earnie Stewart to fill its newly created general manger role, a job he will assume on Aug. 1.

The coaching post remains open. And Vermes remains an intriguing candidate.

Although he has been vague about his potential attraction to the position, The Star spoke with some of his acquaintances from outside clubs over the past few weeks, and they believe he would be interested under the right circumstances.

“You won’t meet someone more competitive than (Vermes) is, and I think no matter what he’s accomplished, he always still has that desire to prove to people what he can do, so to speak,” an MLS assistant coach told The Star. “You give him an opportunity to prove himself at the national team level — yeah, I think that would be a hard thing for him to pass up.”

Vermes said no further talks with U.S. Soccer are currently on the docket. When asked about his potential candidacy, he said nothing has changed from his previous comments on the matter.

Sporting KC signed Vermes to a contract extension in May that will run through 2023. But that deal would not prevent a move elsewhere. He was asked in May if signing the extension should be perceived as a preference to remain in Kansas City, should an opportunity with the U.S. national team arise and responded, “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.”

The ownership commitment is not to be understated, and multiple people who spoke to The Star listed it as the factor that would make it difficult for Vermes to vacate his current job.

He has full control over the Sporting KC roster and coaches the team on the weekend. Ownership put tens of millions into the Sporting KC Academy teams and Swope Park Rangers, investments intended specifically to follow Vermes’ long-term vision. He holds the final say on all those properties.

When it comes time to evaluate his performance, he is judged based on the decisions he makes, not how well he enacts those from a superior.

“There aren’t a lot of us that have it that way,” a front-office member of another club said. “I have no insight as to which way U.S. Soccer will go, but if the national team job offers him the chance to replicate what he’s doing there (in Kansas City), I could see him being on a short list.

“But if not — if they just want him to coach the team and that’s it — I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense for either side.”

There is considerable doubt about whether U.S. Soccer is prepared to move in a direction that offers a coach full supremacy — especially after the last man it gave notable jurisdiction, Jurgen Klinsmann, was widely believed unsuccessful. It’s one of the reasons that, after failing to qualify for the World Cup, the federation split the coaching job into two positions, adding a general manager. It’s not yet clear exactly what Stewart’s role will entail.

Although he has not publicly stated a desire to take over the national team job, Vermes has talked about the steps he believes necessary for improvement of the program. This suggests he has given the job appreciable thought. He has primarily pointed toward the integration of systems across all ages— not unlike what he created in Kansas City.

Sporting KC is starting to see the benefit of that blueprint, with three teenagers — all of them former academy prospects — making their debuts with the senior team this year.

Will the next U.S. coach be in charge of the youth national teams? Will those teams’ styles of play mirror the senior team’s? Who will choose the senior team rosters? What instruction will the coach receive from Stewart?

Vermes runs the show in Kansas City, often unquestioned in his moves. In 2013, he made one of his biggest transactions as Sporting KC technical director, transferring leading scorer Kei Kamara overseas. He received pushback from ownership intent on chasing an MLS Cup. But Vermes was able to convince them of the long-term rewards of the transfer. Sporting KC would still hoist the 2013 MLS Cup, one of four trophies Vermes has won in his tenure.

When Vermes makes similar moves — transferring Uri Rosell, Krisztian Nemeth and Dom Dwyer — there is an ongoing dialogue with club owners, but the group ultimately trusts his decisions, and they’re his to make.

“There aren’t many teams that would have traded Dom Dwyer, because the people in charge have to look at the here-and-now, sometimes to save our jobs,” a former MLS coach said. “Peter has the opportunity to look at the big picture. You have to credit the people in charge there, because they reap the rewards from it, but he’s earned that.

“With the scrutiny of the (U.S. men’s national team) job, you can have some knee-jerk reactions in the realm of public opinion. I’ve heard (Vermes) talk about the grassroots programs. That takes time. You wonder if (U.S. Soccer) will have the patience to prioritize a long-term plan over a short-term fix.”