It was an early afternoon at Sporting Kansas City’s training complex, and coach Peter Vermes was making a point he has tried to drive home several times this year: Krisztian Nemeth is unlike any striker he’s coached. If Nemeth’s arrival in Kansas City had been coupled with a multimillion-dollar transfer fee, perhaps he would be more appreciated, Vermes continued.
“It just makes me laugh,” he said.
When pressed for the evidence — how Nemeth differs from his predecessors — Vermes was prepared. In fact, midway through an explanation, he stood up from his desk chair.
“Here, follow me,” he said.
Vermes walked across the hallway, into the office of Ashley Wallace, the club’s top performance analyst and something of a film guru whose desk sits amongst half a dozen TV screens.
“Cue up some of those Nemeth clips,” Vermes said.
The first: A match on Mexican soil, the second leg of a CONCACAF Champions League match against Toluca. Sporting KC captain Matt Besler is holding the ball, searching for an outlet. From his place atop the formation, Nemeth breaks back toward Besler and in front of the Toluca back line. Besler plays it to him. With one touch, Nemeth collects a pass and redirects it to Felipe Gutierrez.
The break is on.
Nemeth turns and busts forward, and Sporting KC suddenly finds itself in an odd-man rush.
“See how he plays between the lines? See how quick he is about it?” Vermes said. “Takes a touch, plays it. Takes a touch, plays it. That never allows the central defenders to get on his back. He’s not constantly fighting those guys to keep the ball. He’s already played it, and now he’s right back in the attack.”
Another clip. It’s in the same setting. Except this time when a defender plays Nemeth the ball, he fakes the pass and keeps it. He abruptly turns his body and sprints up the field, leading his own break that results in a shot just wide of the goal.
Another clip. It’s from last weekend’s victory against Philadelphia. Late in the game, as Sporting KC is trying to ice a 2-0 win, midfielder Kelyn Rowe squeezes a pass into Nemeth. After taking a slight touch, Nemeth plays it back, then curls toward another opening. Rowe returns the ball to Nemeth on the run. Nemeth sends it back once more without breaking stride. It sets up an opening for Yohan Croizet at the edge of the box.
“This is what I’m saying — we need to do more of this,” Vermes said. “We need to give him the ball more because he’s getting into places on the field that other forwards did not get to. To be able to play those passes on the run, it’s another level. He can bring people into the game. We need to find him more and make him more of a part of our game.”
Sporting KC holds a film session nearly every week. Vermes points out a handful of plays from his own club. Uses them as supporting exhibits for things he has drilled in practice.
Nemeth has been a recent point of emphasis. He’s already scored five goals in five starts across all competitions.
But there’s more there. Sporting’s lineup includes a collection of veterans, players who have grown accustomed to the way the club likes to play. Nemeth is a fit for that possession-style. And while Vermes often expects new players to find their way to mold to the team, he has tasked his current ones to adapt to Nemeth.
“We have to look more than we are looking for him on the field because he can give us that solution when all the other options are closed,” midfielder Ilie Sanchez said.
The season is less than one month old, but this is how Vermes envisioned it unfolding. When his top-two strikers from 2018 left —Khiry Shelton by choice and Diego Rubio via trade — he didn’t scour the overseas market for a replacement. The guy he wanted was in-house.
Nemeth moved up the depth chart. It was a risk. He had scored just twice in the previous 18 months. He didn’t mirror what Sporting had lost, and that was at least partially by design. Vermes was looking for something different. Something that matched this version of his club.
“Everybody asks these questions about the center forward on our team,” Vermes said. “I just don’t understand that. We have one. He’s that guy. That’s who he is.”