KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Robb Heineman is a busy guy. And he hopes it stays that way at least until MLS Cup on Nov. 20.
Between making the rounds with the local media to promote Sporting Kansas City’s postseason hopes and planning for the actual games themselves, the SKC president made time to sit down with MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday to discuss the team’s season.
In part one of the interview, Heineman discusses the contrasting trajectories of the season, Kansas City’s playoff chances and his commitment to head coach Peter Vermes.
MLSsoccer.com: After a pretty disastrous start, Sporting ended up in first place in the Eastern Conference. Overall, how do you think this season has gone from a competitive standpoint?
Heineman: I suppose in a roundabout way we wound up in the position we wanted to be in heading into the playoffs. We wanted to be in the top three and put ourselves in the right position [to have success in the postseason]. Ten games into the season, it didn’t look like that was necessarily going to be the case. The guys have had a ton of fight, a ton of tenacity and a lot of belief in each other. I think we are happy, but now we feel like we have a team that can keep going.
MLSsoccer.com: Would it be somewhat of a disappointment, knowing that you have home field advantage and based on recent form, to not advance to the Eastern Conference final with a chance to move onto MLS Cup in front of your own fans?
Heineman: I don’t want to say disappointment, because I’m really proud of the team. Wherever we go from here, we’ve got a lot to build on. We’ve got a very young team and a couple veterans sprinkled in. We’ve always said what we wanted was a team that would consistently perform at a championship-caliber level. I think we have the opportunity to do that with the roster of guys that we have.
But if you are the number one seed in the East, your goal has got to be play at Livestrong Sporting Park and hoist the trophy for the Eastern Conference and get to MLS Cup. We will be disappointed if we don’t get there, but it won’t be with the team. It would just be with a missed opportunity.
MLSsoccer.com: It looked like this might not all come together so well early on in the season, yet you still managed to finish first in the East. Can you evaluate the job Peter Vermes has done so far this year?
Heineman: I think Peter is a very committed person. Probably to the degree that you would characterize it as stubbornness at times.
I think he knew that he had the sort of team coming together that he wanted to have. Even when there were signs from our perspective that it wasn’t working, he still stuck with it. The classic examples on the team this year are [Matt] Besler and [Graham] Zusi, who he always said he believed in. He said, "Hey, I know they’re just a little development time away from being really special players." Those two guys really blossomed this year.
C.J. Sapong is another great example. Peter is not actively involved in college scouting really until after the season ends. We’ve got other guys who go out and do the advanced scouting of the college players, and Peter just comes into it after the season. From really the first time that he started doing evaluations, he liked Sapong and rated him very highly.
I’m a big believer in Peter’s talent-evaluation skills. Not only in the immediacy of them but also developing a player. He spends time with the guys and develops their skills. Now, does that mean he hits home runs on every guy we get? Obviously not, but nobody is going to do that. I just think that his commitment to his plan and his stick-to-it-iveness have been great for this team.
MLSsoccer.com: Was there ever a moment during the early going where you felt your commitment to Vermes wavering and wondering if all this would actually come together?
Heineman It is not as though there were never question marks around where things were going. We are trend guys. We watch trends, and we had a negative trend. You hope that the trend is going to change.
I’ve always had a lot of belief in Peter, and we thought that he could get things turned around. I wouldn’t say we ever thought Peter was on the hot seat. Obviously, we were the ones that put the team on a 10-game road trip, so we were going to give him every opportunity to come home and rectify the situation. He did it.
I’ve said this before: I’m sure there were times I wavered around Peter, and I’m sure there were times Peter wavered about whether or not we were ever going to get a stadium built for him. That’s just human nature. He’s always been the right guy for us, and I think he is always going to be.
He wants to be here. He wants to develop something sustainable and real here. This isn’t a stepping stone for him. Peter has had opportunities even while he has been here. He had the opportunity to go out to LA and be technical director a couple years ago and stayed here. I think his commitment to Kansas City matches up really well with us as an ownership team.
For a series of reasons, he’s the right guy. For me personally, he’s a great friend.