Sporting KC

Deciphering a Peter Vermes quote and why it could mean changes are coming

Coach Peter Vermes after Sporting KC bows out of Champions League: “We gave away soft goals”

Sporting KC lost to Monterrey FC in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals at Children’s Mercy Park.
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Sporting KC lost to Monterrey FC in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals at Children’s Mercy Park.

On the surface, the point appeared plain and direct. But look deeper, and you’ll find a message that just might mean something for Sporting Kansas City’s future.

In the fallout of Sporting’s removal from the CONCACAF Champions League this week, manager Peter Vermes conveyed his exasperation with a speech about “soft goals.” Ostensibly, it was simply a coach upset about actions within one game.

Here’s the quote: “When I look at the guys who I put out there today, they had an opportunity. I believe some of them fell short. I believe some guys played really well, and I thought our mentality was good going into the game, but when you give up soft goals the way that we did, whether you’re in a competition like this or just playing in a league match or playing whatever, you just can’t give up soft goals like that. We did that twice against this team. And that hurt us.”

Asked a follow-up, Vermes added, “Certain people not making the plays that they need to make. That’s on them, and they’re going to have to live with that piece.”

Some of them. Certain people. They’re going to have to live with that piece.

For the opening 20 minutes Thursday, Sporting KC played as if it had a chance to overcome a 5-0 series deficit against Monterrey. Sporting KC had scored once, felt it deserved a penalty kick afterward and thoroughly controlled the game. Then? The soft goal. During the play, Sporting KC is triple-teaming a Monterrey player with the ball, creating a sizable opening in the teeth of the defense that leads to a 2-on-1 break.

“I think that goal we gave up, it kind of killed a lot of the hopes,” midfielder Roger Espinoza said.

The play clearly irked Vermes, whose considers soft goals to be the product of mental miscues. Players out of position. Poor decision-making.

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The game-changing goals in the second leg against Monterrey derive from the type of mistakes that he doesn’t normally shrug off, the type that in previous instances have prompted him to reevaluate things.

Lineup included.

After its elimination from CCL, Sporting KC is down to one competition for the first time this season. The required roster rotation to navigate two competitions is gone. It’s the silver lining of the series loss. Moving forward, Vermes can concern himself less with the freshness of players and more with performance.

When he says, “That’s on them, and they’re going to have to live with that piece,” it’s logical to conclude he’s at least considering personnel moves, even if he won’t publicly state it directly.

He called the Monterrey series among the biggest disappointments of his coaching career. As Sporting coaches assess what went wrong, the answers might be plentiful. And they are sure to be considered as they fill out future lineup cards.

Any changes Sunday against the New York Red Bulls (6 p.m., Children’s Mercy Park) will perhaps be a product of the club having playing just three days earlier.

But afterward?

Vermes diverted his answer Friday when asked if he intended to suggest that moves are on the way. He also declined to say which players’ mistakes prompted his “soft goals” verbiage. But he did acknowledge this: Performance will call the shots.

“We’ve executed these things with these guys for a lot of years,” he said. “But at times, we’ve had this same dilemma. For me, I need teams to earn the goal. Look, goals aren’t easy to come by. We can score goals. We’ve proven that. That’s not the issue. You have to be able to stop the routine plays. You have to. And every once in awhile, you also have to make the big play. But if you can’t stop the routine plays ... we missed a lot of routine plays in the series.”

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