Peter Vermes leaned back in an office chair Monday morning, a collection of the most notable accomplishments of his Sporting Kansas City tenure draped on the wall behind him. Championships. Playoff wins. Milestones.
For the past eight seasons, this is what he’s come to know. What he’s come to expect. What many of these conversations have entailed.
Those days are gone now, at least temporarily. Heading into Wednesday’s match at Orlando City, Sporting KC is eight points south of the playoff line in the Western Conference, with just 10 games remaining. The website FiveThirtyEight gives Sporting KC only a 22% chance of extending its eight-year playoff streak.
It’s bleak. It’s unfamiliar territory that will prompt some similarly-residing MLS teams to embrace change over the final two months of the season. To experiment a new approach. To try a new lineup. To look ahead to 2020.
Will Sporting KC be one of them?
“You see, when I get asked those questions, I don’t know what to tell you because the way I look at it is I (try) to win every game. I don’t know how to do it any differently from any other year,” Vermes said. “Maybe some would say I need to re-evaluate that part. But that’s not in my makeup. If I’m playing a game, I want to win — whether that’s a soccer game or I’m playing Jenga. I’m here to win.
“So no, I won’t approach these games any differently. We’re going to try to win.”
Everything else is secondary.
But there are some secondary advantages. Evaluation, for example. Heading into a critical offseason in an ever-changing league, Sporting’s technical staff will have to make hard personnel decisions.
Which ones? That requires a recognition of what’s gone wrong. Confidence has been a lingering problem since a CONCACAF Champions League bow out. Vermes has harped on soft goals. And he’s insisted the team is creating “high-quality chances,” despite a low conversion rate (a theory the advanced statistics back).
So if nothing else, Sporting has two months to examine its potential solutions.
“Right now? You gotta keep getting those chances,” Vermes said. “I’ve said this a million times — if you’re not creating high-quality chances, you’ve got big problems. We create them all the time in every game. We have to put them away.
“How do you fix that? You have to keep working. Guys have to get better at it. If those guys aren’t good enough at the end of the season, then you have to find other guys. It’s not a hard equation. It’s pretty simple.”
Which brings us full circle: Is it possible Sporting’s roster entails some of the solutions? Younger players. Could teenagers Gianluca Busio and Jaylin Lindsey benefit from playing time? How about Jimmy Medranda, Gedion Zelalem or the newly-acquired Luis Martins?
It’s not that simple, Vermes says. Lindsey is still working his way back from a knee injury that sidelined him for five months. He won’t use first-team minutes to regain his fitness. That will come with the Swope Park Rangers.
As for the others ...
“You have to earn your spot with the first team,” Vermes said. “It’s not just a place to give somebody an opportunity. You get it because you’ve either earned it or you’re really fortunate because everybody is injured and that’s why you got your chance. In all those cases, when you get your opportunities, you’ve got to take hold of them.
“But again, the guys have to get on the field because (they) deserve to be on the field. I don’t care who it is. That piece is not going to change.”